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Book Review: Everything Solid Has a Shadow

Everything Solid Has a ShadowMichael Antman. Northfield, IL: Amika Press, August 9, 2017, Trade Paperback and E-book, 284 pages.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Melvin

Everything Solid Has a Shadowis a satisfying, introspective, great-for-a-weekend read when Catcher in the Ryeis just too much. Though existential crisis and self-exploration may be a heavy theme, the book is incredibly accessible and a quick read. The main character finds a way to reengage with his past and break free from it to find new life. The story is beautifully rendered. The author, Michael Antman, stays close to his main character Charlie, whose internal struggle is buoyed by dynamic scenes and a cast of vibrant characters. 

We first meet Charlie as he recalls a pivotal life event. At eight years old, he and his friend Willa went off to play, leaving her infant sister Elizabeth to accidentally die. The blame fell squarely on his shoulders, so his parents whisked him back to Buenos Aires for a few more years. This event starts a fracture in childhood that bends his self-perception for life and he is now only able to straighten it out through his current relationships and vivid dreams. In his present-day adulthood, Charlie is a successful marketing clerk and part-time musician. He is fascinated by Marie Angela, who also performs part time at the club. She gets under his skin and into his dreams. Several times in the book, Antman crafts dream sequences that are both clear and abstract. In the waking world, Charlie must confront his ambivalent relationship with his girlfriend, Alisa. She belittles Charlie but not enough to delay thoughts of marriage. An unexpected trip to Maui causes the final strain with Alisa and brings him into a chance encounter with Willa. They connect quickly although they haven’t seen each other in decades. They are each seeking closure over the loss of Elizabeth, and Willa reveals a significant bit of information that helps Charlie to release the dam he’s built within himself. 

Charlie is an interesting character but he is far from the only one. We first meet Marie Angela as Charlie crawls through a dream and reveals a mysterious diagnosis. As we meet her face to face further on in the book she is vibrant, confident, and has little time for Charlie’s waffling attention. The story moves away from her to introduce Alisa, a vibrant foil to the self-possessed Marie Angela. Alisa becomes jealous of Charlie’s connection with Marie Angela through his prophetic dreams. Without the upsets of adventure, Alisa and Charlie would have fallen into a sad marriage. While Alisa remains sympathetic, we understand Charlie’s transition to Willa. Though he begins as a fickle man, Charlie’s conviction strengthens as he tears away the blockages of his past, and his close relationship to Marie Angela is a natural emotional progression. 

Even the secondary characters are impactful. One of the most memorable is Dr. Donte Nemerov, the recommended therapist. From Charlie’s perspective, the doctor is one of a kind and his advice is timely, poignant, and precise. He accepts Charlie’s presentation but he, like the reader, can call out some inconsistencies. His guiding voice appears only twice in the book, but he is still a crucial element of the story. Antman doesn’t waste a word or appearance throughout the book, keeping us involved and attentive throughout Charlie’s struggle. 

Throughout the book, Antman displays his strength of characterization. His characters bring to life internal stories of emotion and growth. The strong characterizations combine with moments of exceptional magical realism and intriguing storytelling, using beautiful details and strong imagery. The deft transitions allow the reader to follow almost effortlessly through Charlie’s search for truth.

Anyone who enjoys exploring the mind, the impact of proximity and understanding on creating our sense of self, and the complexity of romance, will find a great read in Everything Solid Has a Shadow.


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