Friday, April 01, 2011

Russ VanHeel Talks About His - Life in Purgatory

Vonnie Faroqui interviews author Russ VanHeel about his first book of short stories, Life in Purgatory. Inspired by real life events and written as part of the author’s recovery from abuse, Life in Purgatory digs deep into the stuff that relationships are made of and challenges each of us to look at our own dysfunctional behavioral patterns. The two discuss writing choices, narrative perspective and Russ's unique approach when writing about his experiences.

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Book Title: Life in Purgatory
Author: Russ VanHeel
ISBN: 978-1432766337
Publisher: Outskirts Press
Reviewer: Vonnie Faroqui

I recently read a discussion forum on the Internet with the heading, “If you like biographies of ordinary people. . .” and I immediately thought of this book. Although Life in Purgatory is technically a collection of short stories and not a biography, if you are a person who likes to read the biographies of ordinary people, this is a book that will please on several levels. Author Russ VanHeel has approached presenting his very personal story and healing journey in a unique way; with a level of creativity that makes Life in Purgatory stand out from other biographical pieces.

A little background may be necessary to fully appreciate the unique approach this author has taken when sharing his story. You see, Russ VanHeel is a survivor of domestic abuse; something that most people, especially men, find terribly difficult to come to terms with and to recover from. There is a social taboo to talking about domestic abuse, more so when the victim is male and the woman in the relationship is the aggressor or to put it another way, the perpetrator. Often things are said like, “Why didn’t he just leave?” or “No woman is going to be able to abuse a man.” and “I bet he did something to deserve what he got.” Worse yet, assumptions are made like “He must have been a weakling.” All of these statements are false and exceedingly difficult to respond to as the male victim struggles with understanding his own situation and often blames himself for the dysfunction in the relationship. After all, “ . . . isn’t the man supposed to be the protector, the provider, the warrior? Shouldn’t he be able to handle anything that comes his way?” If only life and life circumstances were so easy to explain.

In his writing Russ has given us a window into this painful and tragic life situation and his personal experience. By opening himself up and embracing his own healing process through writing, he helps shed light on a difficult and painful reality that many men face but few have the courage to speak about.

I appreciated these stories for many reasons, foremost being the unique approach taken by the author to write each using different perspectives and stylistic techniques. Not all of the stories have been written from the author’s narrative perspective or even with a male voice; several being written from a female or child’s vantage point. At least one story includes supernatural or paranormal elements symbolic of the relationship’s power dynamics. Some of the stories are narrated using a first person internal dialogue style, while others follow the more traditional third person narrative. These style and writing choices have the effect of making the entire collection deeply captivating from a writer’s perspective as well as for the depth of emotion and insight to be gained.

Russ handles his theme and disclosures with discretion. If the reader were not already aware, through reading the synopsis, that the stories are drawn from Russ’s personal experience, they would not realize that each of these stories has been inspired by one relationship.

Inspired by real-life events and written as part of the author’s self recovery, Life in Purgatory digs deep into the stuff that relationships are made of and challenges each of us to look at our own dysfunctional behavioral patterns. Life in Purgatory is darkly and insightfully written; a real eye opener.

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