Monday, September 3, 2012

BOOK REVIEW - darlenne susan girard: freefalling

freefallingfreefalling by Darlenne Susan Girard

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Reviewer's note – In my junior year of college, I suffered a six month ordeal that nearly ended my life and even now, almost seven years later, still has me looking in the back seat before I get in any car and still wakes me in the middle of the night, the dying echo of tortured screams floating on the night air.  After reading freefalling, I find myself asking if I really know what true suffering is?  I am in no way mitigating the trauma of rape and the ordeals of myself and tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of women, young girls and children; don’t get me wrong.   But, I do have my life… my pain and suffering is mostly memories now.  The girls who live on the streets?  Pain and suffering is their life… it isn’t just a memory.

I have received no compensation for this review, nor do I know the author personally.   My five-star rating is based solely on the merits of the book.   freefalling is available in e-book and trade paperback.  Thank you. vmls)

“please dear God I ask of thee
send four angels down to me
one to watch and one to pray
and two to carry my soul away”

With those spare words, thus begins a story that is both transformative and unforgiving.

Darlenne Susan Girard's freefalling is the heart-breakingly poignant, breathtaking and tragic story of a young girl's 'journey' from innocence lost at the tender age of 14, to her death two and a half years later... the victim of circumstance and the unbearably crushing weight of an all too often heartless and cruel world, filled with takers and users, to whom compassion and empathy are nothing more than words on paper… lofty ideals of a civilized society that these unfortunate souls… the streetwalkers… now live on the edge of.  Although, perhaps ‘living’ is too polite a term.

I will try not to put too much of the story in my review, but this is probably a good place to caution the reader about spoilers.

Forced to leave by an impossible situation at home, the protagonist, 14 year old Melinda, finds herself on the 'mean streets', virtually penniless and with little more than the clothes on her back... and woefully unprepared to face a less than certain future.  A future so bleak in fact that any Las Vegas bookmaker would give long odds indeed that Melinda would last a week, let alone 30 months in the unforgiving, harsh and at times utterly ruthless, world the young girl has 'tripped' into.

It is only her chance encounter with perhaps the one person in this new 'world' - Angel - who thinks of more than just herself, that Melinda finds a fighting chance.   Angel takes Mouse, whom she has 'christened' Melinda as, under her wing, showing that even when life seems at its darkest, a candle of hope still flickers.

Will this unlikely friendship be enough to save Mouse?   And what will happen when she discovers that the unthinkable has happened to her?   What will she do… this once innocent girl who has yet to reach the age of 15?  Who can Melinda turn to for the love and understanding, the guidance and wisdom she desperately needs?  Is her fate now to be determined by the whims of a psychotic streetwalker, who is at times so immersed in her own pain and suffering that she cannot help anyone else?

As we soon find out, it is street justice and street wisdom that are the girls ‘guiding light’… their ‘beacons of survival’, if you will.  And like countless thousands of girls before her, Melinda finds herself doing ‘whatever it takes’ to survive.

freefalling is probably the hardest book I have ever, or will ever, read.  This is a testament to the incredibly powerful and moving writing of Ms. Girard and her keen insight into the human condition.  I cried most of the way through this book and had to put it down several times... I simply could not go on, having become completely overwhelmed at the tragedy unfolding on the pages in front of me.   Even now, it is hard to take my mind back to the story.

freefalling is written with such uncompromising clarity and brutal honesty that one wonders if it really is the product of a prolific imagination or is a story told so well and so real because the author lived it?  It is truly the mark of a great story-teller who knows her craft, when readers ask such questions.

Melinda (Mouse) and Angela (Angel) are without a doubt two of the most unforgettable people I have ever read.   The author had me craving a burger and fries more than once when I would read one of the diner scenes.  Darlenne - may I call you Darlenne? Ms. Girard seems so formal - weaves a story rich in detail and filled with characters drawn with the creative brilliance of a master storyteller.   I actually found myself shivering at times, when Darlenne would describe one of the countless street scenes with Mouse or Angel standing curbside in the rain or in whatever meager shelter the street offered… the wet and cold soaking through to the bone.

The author’s unique style… the pace and tempo of her writing… conveyed the pain and despair… the desperation and hopelessness of the girls all too well.  As I said earlier… their pain was all too real as I struggled through the pages… palms sweaty and heartbeat racing as the brutal words of Darlenne’s narrative brought forth images of the street life these girls endured.

What kind of life is it… on your knees trying to coax a little life into some stranger’s flaccid flesh, just to earn enough money for a meal, maybe a bottle and some cigarets?  Or, lying on your back on a filthy bed in a filthy hotel room… legs spread… dignity and hope only distant memories… as some poor bastard spills his seed… adding to the soil around you and reminding you of your own worth… barely less than zero.

A life where violence is the only ‘gratuity’ you will ever receive for services rendered.  And even in that, there is a bitter irony.

Of all the men in this story, only one seems to engender any sympathy, and even Al has his own agenda… something a new girl on the streets, like Melinda, soon enough learns.  Everyone has their own agenda… everyone looks out for number one.

The acerbic Carla is another character in the book, a ‘tough’ girl whose philosophy is ‘fuck or be fucked’ and who fails to see the irony of her own situation.  Angel sees the irony of her life, yet is helpless to change it. And Mouse… poor little Mouse?

The power of Melinda’s own life was taken from her before she fully realized what she had.  That is the real tragedy.   That is a tragedy that happens every single day… everywhere.   That is a tragedy that crashes through every social strata of every society

You and I have ‘avenues’… means of escape… when life around us gets ‘rough’, more importantly; we have support systems – family and friends – who care about us, and us about them.   The girls on the street have neither.  They can’t afford friends… friends will only disappoint them and hurt them.

For Angela, Mouse, Carla and the others… friends are a burden they cannot bear; the weight of reciprocity is too much.  There is more than enough tragedy and despair in these young girls’ lives and a friend is only someone else they will use and then disappoint, in their own search to fill the void in their lives… a void that only one thing can fill, because they’ve given up on everything else.

Well, there are two things… but a quick death isn’t something anyone on the street seems to want.  They prefer a slow, painful death; seeing it as a sort of redemption for what they’ve done… for what they’ve allowed themselves to become.  These girls gave up long ago believing that it was anyone’s fault but their own for the bleak existence that they now endure.  Some of them may still believe in love and even think they have found it… but in the end, they will only chase it away with a needle or a pill or a bottle.  And sometimes… all three.

The girls exist on the streets… little more than a ‘fingerhut’ for some other tortured soul… as penance for something they did or something that happened to them.   But, penance isn’t enough… without redemption, penance is an empty gesture.   For these girls, the only redemption is the slow death of giving up their lives… piece by piece… everything human about them.  These girls become little more than ‘the walking dead’, riding a freight train of drugs and alcohol that gains speed every day, until one day it takes a curve too fast.   And in a heartbeat… the closing credits of a life they no longer recognize, flash before their eyes… then… silence.

Despite all the promises she makes to herself and all her good intentions, Melinda finds herself on that freight train.  Yet one more tragedy in an already tragic life, only… she’s brought an unwitting passenger.  Can Mouse get off of that train before it runs away… before its speed takes her around that curve… and all of her promises disappear… like tears in rain.

There is a passage from a song on one of my playlists that would run through head at times, while reading freefalling -

Still falling
Breathless and on again
Inside today
Inside me today
Around broken in two

~ Mazzy Star

I recommend freefalling without reservation.  It isn’t pretty and it isn’t for the faint-hearted.  And, unless your heart is carved from stone, you’re going to get angry… you’re going to cry... you’re going to be made uncomfortable.  Good!  And just maybe you’ll do something about that.

freefalling is uncompromising and unapologetic.  Anything less almost seems dishonourable.

Thank you, Darlenne, for a story that is going to stay with me for a very, very long time.

What’s that you say?  How does the story end?  Well, I can’t tell you that; now can I?  I will leave you with one final word –


Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
Cannon Beach, Oregon
2 September 2012

View all my reviews

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