I read this book a few months ago, but needed time to process the harsh reality of young Danny’s life. I bought it because my Mom had a traumatic childhood and because my late Dad played provisional baseball for Rhodesia, and this book combines those two factors.
Although the prose style is easy to read, and could be aimed at children, there is a depth to this novel that at times makes it seem more adult in tone, with a subject matter that’s difficult to read: no child should have to go through what Danny and Katie Kaufman did. But, of course, as this novel so tragically reminds us, some children do have parents who can’t cope when private disaster strikes and some children do have to grow up too fast.
Although unflinching, Grace’s excellent story-telling style doesn’t rely on gratuitous violence to create emotional impact; despite the topic, the depth of his characters and the tension in the story lies in the surprisingly gentle tone. It’s in the spaces in between the words that we’re most affected by Danny’s courage, Sheryl’s descent into an, at times, violent mental illness and Wayne’s abdication of the responsibilities of a father and husband.
Throughout the novel there are little gems of insight, which reveal a deep knowledge of human nature tempered with compassion for our very human frailty (“I found that interesting, the same mouths that couldn’t stop from speaking about my family’s demise … suddenly clamped shut when the authorities arrived … maybe the people … knew when to keep quiet after all. When to stand guard in front of a closet, hindering a skeleton from sneaking through.”)
As baseball offers Danny hope, the last chapter simply clutches at one’s emotions and offers hope that, even in a world where families fall apart because of inner and outer pressures, love can be salvaged.
Ultimately, SOUTH OF CHARM is a moving read, which raises some thought- provoking questions about parental responsibility.