The Rest is Illusion by Eric Arvin188 Pages
Blurb: A coming of age story with a supernatural bent, set on the campus of Verona College. The story centers on five students whose lives are further complicated by an unseen force that surrounds the college, changing them forever.
Review: This story is centered around a group of five college students: Dashel, Ashley, Sarah, Tony, and Wilder.
Dashel knows he is terminally ill but hasn't told anyone at school. His condition is the same one that claimed the life of his father, and when Dashel's symptoms worsen, he knows his days are numbered. Although we get alternating points-of-view, and rich character development, Dashel is the nucleus of the story. The other characters are all connected to him in some way. Ashley is Dashel's roommate and close friend. They're both considered outcasts in their fraternity; Dashel is openly gay and Ash is an albino. Tony is also a member of the fraternity. He's the "big man on campus" but harbors his own big secret and finds himself drawn to Dashel. Sarah is close to Dash, and although she loves him, she's accepted that they'll never be more than friends. And Wilder is a manipulator on a power trip who has his eye on Tony.
Throughout the story, we follow Dashel as he ultimately makes peace with his fate, and we see how that affects the people around him. There's a definite mystical quality to his journey as he turns to nature for comfort and understanding. He's particularly drawn to a large old tree on campus that he affectionately refers to as Old Lady. Dash finds such solace at the end of his journey that I found myself in tears, not from sadness (well, not just from sadness), but from the beauty of it.
Eric Arvin has done a masterful job at creating vivid characters that completely suck you into their surroundings and make you a part of their journey. The prose is beautifully crafted, particularly descriptions of setting. And those final few paragraphs--so powerful, so moving. I want to be thinking those thoughts in my final moments.
Excerpt from The Rest is Illusion:
Dash led the way through the hushing snow and stern darkness. He walked as if he were unencumbered by the clustering balls of snow at his feet. He stared straight ahead at all times, not bothering to look around or down. His mind had already arrived at his destination. It was merely waiting for the rest of him to catch up.
Tony followed faithfully, unquestioningly. Dash had become a beacon, a lantern, a light to guide Tony through the dark. Tony's feet felt weighed down by the icy precipitation and his own sense of desperation. It was only Dashel’s onward march that kept him from falling like lead to the ground.
Through the snow they journeyed, two silent travelers, each requiring the other’s help out of bleakness and solitude.
As they reached the grand old tree that peered forlornly, always lonely, down into the valley, the clouds overhead parted. The night took on a pristine presence as a regal sphere of moonlight shown. Lambency took over the valley, gently brushing it like an old mother. The reflection on the frigid water below made it appear the satellite of the world was being transported by waterway, making its elegant passing downriver until morning’s light was born in the sky.
Dash waited by the tree for Tony to trudge up alongside him. It was heartrending for Dash to see him like this. His image of Tony up to that point had been of the lighthearted but strong jock. He saw, through Tony’s pain, how premature that opinion was.
Tony only stared at the white snow as he came shoulder to shoulder with Dash.
“Look up,” Dash ordered softly. Tony’s chin rose slowly, his eyes meeting Dashel's eyes. “Look there,” Dash gestured out to the river.
Tony looked where he was told. There was a fine, sudden change in his expression, almost imperceptible. The moon’s glow on the curves of the great waterway below quelled the rage inside Tony just the tiniest sliver. It would do its work, Dash knew. If they stayed by the tree long enough, Tony might begin to feel more like himself again. The night would leech out the darkness from him.
Dash cleared a space below the Old Lady where they could sit free of the wet snow. Tony sat zombie–like, as if in a waking coma.
“I like to come here on nights like this,” Dash said, interrupting the silence of several minutes. “When no one else is crazy enough – or maybe sane enough to come out. I get some great vibes here, some real zingers of thought. Do you have any places like that? Places that make you feel...like yourself?”
“No,” Tony replied. It was the first he had spoken since they had left the house. A distant answer, but an answer nonetheless.
“Well, maybe you could come here then,” Dash offered.
“This old tree, the valley, the river – they help me think. Help me get away and wade through all the crap I’ve cluttered my life with. When you get rid of the clutter, all that’s left is what mattered in the first place.” There was still only quiet emanating from Tony, the shell of a damaged soul. “You can’t let him take over, Tony. Whatever he’s taken from you, let him have it, but no more. You have to just not care. It might be uncomfortable at first, but in the end, it will be so much less painful. When he realizes he has no control he loses interest.”
“It’s my life, Dash. My life. He’s going to ruin my life if I don’t...” Tony whispered. A branch creaked overhead.
“He won’t win in the end, Tony. It’s all absurdity anyway. Everything we do we’re just doing to bide time until we die,” Dash said.
They sat quiet once more. The clouds that had appeared in the early evening vanished and the moon held discourse with the tree on the bluff over the winding river.
Dash stirred once more, as if awakened from a dream. “See that big limb up there,” he pointed just above Tony. “I climbed up there last spring. I sat up there all night just watching the river.”
“That’s high,” Tony observed, half interested.
“Yeah. I kept having this dream I was a bird sitting on that limb. I guess I wanted to enact it for real. It’s a great dream. I still have it. And it has a beautiful ending,” Dash said, as his voice took on a silky note.
“How does it end?” Tony asked, his interest heightened a splinter.
“Well, I can’t tell you,” Dash teased. “Then it won’t come true. Actually, I really don’t know how it ends. I always wake up before that. But I know it’s the right ending.” He paused and smiled. “The view from that limb is so wonderful, Tony. The river cuts through the hills of the valley like – like a band saw. In the early dawn light, the water sparkles like flashes of 'hello.' And then the mist...I swear it, the mist in the morning dances in circles. In circles, Tony. Waltzing with the spirits of the valley – the river dwellers – down the hill to the river. It’s a beautiful dance, though I have only seen it once. But it’s more real than anything I can remember.”
Tony looked at Dash as he spoke. He saw Dash’s eyes turn glassy and a radiance came from him as he gazed out at the valley. There was a warmth, an indescribable comfort, in Dash’s voice.
“You think I’m nuts,” Dash said, feeling Tony’s stare. “No, Dash, I don’t,” Tony said, coming around to himself. Tony leaned his head on Dashel's shoulder. A moment of tenderness from the football player that Dash had not expected.
“This is for us,” Dashel whispered. “This is all for us.”
They sat under the shelter of the Old Lady, such as it was, into the first hours of the new day. The moon, naked of the night clouds, hung high in the ancient sky.
Review by Madison