Friday, June 10, 2011

Castles by Benjamin X Wretlind: A disturbing coming of age story

Castles is one of those books that is tough to read.  Not because of the writing, which is tight and professional, but because of the subject matter.  Castles is, at its core, a coming of age story that follows a girl, Maggie, from childhood to young adulthood.  It is a visceral tale on many levels, one that makes you squirm because what you are reading is so horrible, yet prevalent in the world today.

 It is a stark story of abuse, rape, victimization and revenge, and there isn't necessarily a happy ending, depending on how you read the story.  The only person Maggie trusted as a child, her grandmother, dies while she is still young, leaving her to the mercies of her mother, whose mood changes as the wheels of her own life turn, and the men she brings home to fill the hole in her own life.  As she grows older and watches as everything that was good thing in her life dies (the boy she loses her virginity to and the dog they shared), she follows the same path as her mother, choosing relationships that are self-destructive.  The difference between her and her mother, though, is that she finally listens to the words that the ghost of her grandmother (or memory, depending on how you read it) share with her.  Instructions on how to clean up the mess she has made of her life.  The end of the story is open ended in my opinion.  Is Maggie going mad after what she has done?  Is she going to continue getting into destructive situations just so she has messes to clean up?  Or, now that she has cleaned up the mess that was her childhood, is she going to try and close that chapter in her life and live on?

Castles in an interesting story about abuse and family cycles and how they affect the mindset of the people involved.  People on the outside looking in may say, "It's over, grow up, make something or your life."  But it's never that easy, is it?  Once abuse and death and murder become staples of your life, is it possible to become "normal"?  Or does that way of life warp the mind enough that there is no coming back?

I enjoyed my time reading Castles (as much as anyone can enjoy reading something of this subject matter).  Ben could have been more descriptive in many of his scenes, could have turned the reader's stomach more,but thankfully, he found a nice balance between giving us enough but not too much.  Just because there is rape and assault doesn't mean every second has to be described in all of its violent, ugly glory.  As for typos, if there were any, I didn't notice them.

So pick up Castles.  It is a well written tale designed to make you feel uncomfortable.  And isn't that what good horror is supposed to do?

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