The clouds were high and scudding but dark.—Charles White
I read A Shelter of Others in late spring. As a bibliophile, I appreciate the feel of a book. I read plenty of them electronically, but there are books I must own, and I knew Shelter would be one. Why? Read Lambs of Men, and you’ll see how White writes in lyrical prose that makes me wish he’d publish (more) poetry. Fiddleback did a beauty of a book — its size is perfect for holding in your hand, and the cover is smooth, not glossy. It simply feels good to touch.
I’ve had to let Shelter sit with me before writing about it, because it is the type of story that needs time to simmer. After reading it, I immediately thought of a question I’d ask Charles, if I were to see him (note: friend disclaimer). However, after mulling awhile, I’ve realized that my question is no longer a burning one, and may very well be moot.
As a poet, I read quite a fair amount of fiction and creative non-fiction, so I can speak to the fact that the voice Charles commandeers is one that is unique and eloquent. I’ve seen comparisons of his work to Ron Rash and Harry Crews, and while writers such as those have most likely influenced Charles, he has developed a voice that stands firmly beside such talents. Each sentence he writes paints a landscape — both psychological (one of the more prominent landscapes in Shelter), and physical. It’s as if the storm in the narrative becomes a metaphor for the internal tornadoes we all suffer through. How do we, flawed humans that we are, survive such? Through shelter. The shelter of others. The shelter of others whom we love(d), we’ve hurt, we’ve left, we’ve cared for. The story in this book is one of connectedness and disconnectedness. Characters come and go in one another’s lives, yet some connections remain even when the physicality is gone. Shelter is a study of the complexity of human nature and relationship, written in elegant prose.
So what was that question I thought of initially posing to Charles? Would there be another book, another one that gives more backstory to the characters in Shelter? Yet as I sat with the story, it is no longer important to me that I know more about Mason and Lavada or Dennis, or Sam, or any other character in the novel, because the narrative of this lyrical novel holds enough for me to know that I already do know their backstories, as they reside in me, too. All I want now from White are additional stories, and please, some poetry!