Sunday, March 25, 2012

Borealis, (Samhain Publishing), by Ronald Malfi

It's almost an iron-clad guarantee: reading Ronald Malfi's work will send shivers down your spine, fill you with a sense of unsettling disquiet...but it will also, ultimately, break your heart.  Because - aside from his smooth, often lyrical prose - that's one of Malfi's greatest talents: invoking emotion.  

His characters are often lost, fractured, wandering souls whose quests for meaning and significance so nearly mirrors our own, genre becomes secondary.  This is why Malfi has enjoyed such success in switching from "horror" novels like Snow and The Floating Staircase to suspense/thrillers like Shamrock Alley, to even more experimental novels like Passenger: characters that readers feel real empathy for, not only because they're so well constructed...

...but maybe because they remind us all something of ourselves, too.  

And it's no different in his novella from Samhain Publishing, BorealisThe genre elements are there, of course.  But it's the human element that makes it stand out from all the dross.

Charlie Mears is at a wrenching cross-roads.  Crabbing and the sea runs in his blood.  It's what he does, trawling the waters, working in the biting cold, making a living on the cold dark sea.  But it's also cost him his marriage, and may prevent him from seeing his son ever again.  Tired of long weeks - even months - away from home, his wife has left him, taking his son too.  Charlie must choose between the only thing he knows how to do well and leaving it behind to find his son, perhaps salvage what he can of his family.

But very soon, Charlie has other things to worry about on the Borealis.  Like the impossible, mysterious, child-like - and damned odd - woman they rescue off the ridge of a passing iceberg. A naked woman.

Who has no name.  No memory of where she ultimately comes from.  And deep, emotionless black eyes that look very deep into a person.

Perhaps too deep.

And then things go bad aboard the Borealis.  Engines and navigation and heating systems malfunctioning.  Men turn up missing.  The very air itself seems foul.  Because they've brought something terrible aboard the Borealis, and just as much as they want to get back to the mainland, back to civilization, Charlie realizes with a growing sense of horror... 

...that's what the woman wants, also. 
Borealis is a haunting work.  But it's haunting because of Charlie Mears.  Because of his situation, as we realize that even as his intense love for his son shields him from the cold malevolence they've accidentally brought aboard the Borealis, it's a tragic he may not ever express again.  And tragedy - thus invoking catharsis - is something Ron Malfi does better than anyone else.

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Kevin Lucia is a Contributing Editor for Shroud Magazine and a blogger for The Midnight Diner. His short fiction has appeared in several anthologies. He's currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles, and he's currently working on his first novel. Visit him on the web at

1 comment:

Ben said...

I'm going to have to pick this one up. Thanks for the great review!