Country: South Africa
Pages: 481 kb (eOriginal)
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No, fear woke him, plain and simple. He's scared shitless of being out here, being what they call a free man. Doesn't feel like no free man, prowling this dark shack even a short-ass like him can't stand up straight in. Scared of the day ahead.
America is the last place on earth that doesn't know and love Roger Smith. His books had tremendous success overseas and were translated in many languages, including french (yours truly's mother language). He's a take-no-prisoners, make-no-compromise type of writers, with a vision darker than the deepest abyss. ISHMAEL TOFFEE is his latest release, an eOriginal novella. It's the second Roger Smith I'm reading, so it's difficult to compare, but this is very different from DUST DEVILS. Same dark vision, same infernal townships, but a much more intimate story than the sprawling, epic noir he released in 2011. With two novels being adapted to cinema, hopefully American audiences will shift gears and reading Roger Smith too. ISHMAEL TOFFEE would be another great reason to start following him.
As stated in the title, the novella is about Ishmael Toffee, freshly out of Pollsmoor prison after a twenty years stint, where he survived as an assassin for a gang. Ishmael Toffee is a career killer, ending one's life with a knife is what he does best. But then he loses his taste for blood. That brings some positive and negative. Fortunately for him, the warden takes him under his wing and teaches him gardening. He is soon paroled and sent to work for a lawyer in town. Ishmael quickly makes friends with the lawyer's six year old daughter Cindy, with whom he shares more than anybody would think. When he finds out Cindy is being molested by her dad, Ishmael faces a choice. Will he run away from the best thing he can possibly do in this world? Even if it means being that guy again. That guy he stopped being in prison.
Child abuse is a very difficult issue to depict in literature. Anybody can write a child abuse scene per se, but finding the right tone is difficult. There are a few courageous scenes in ISHMAEL TOFFEE that will dare you to read them and turn your stomach. It's not complacent, it's just enough to make you understand and feel the horror young Cindy lives in. The relationship between Ishmael and Cindy had its moments of beauty. The book she lends to Ishmael, how they share a similar experience with it, was beautiful. Although, I found it gets a little melodramatic by the end. Reminded me of GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES, a sacred monster of animation cinema that didn't quite reach out to me either. I understand the difficulty of writing a proper relationship in between an abused child and a streetwise but dispossessed man. The relationship between Cindy and Ishmael is very believable, but just a notch too emotional for me. This will be the reason why some people will love it though.
He grabbed her shoulder, so hard it hurt. "Now you listen to me and you listen good. What your daddy done to you is nothing you could stop, hard as you could try. It's never your fault. Never. You understanding me, Cindy?"
The achievement of ISHMAEL TOFFEE is Smith's filter of the narrative through a poor man's vernacular. Smith' use of a chopped up syntax and a limited vocabulary gave his novella a life of its own. That's quite the trick, considering its a third person narration. If DUST DEVILS stood out by its stellar and ambitious storytelling, ISHMAEL TOFFEE stands out too, by its creative and surprising prose. Reveals Roger Smith as a multifaceted writer with a very strong voice and a fearless taste for narrative exploration. I liked DUST DEVILS a little better than ISHMAEL TOFFEE, but don't interpret this as a seal of quality. Some stories are just meant to reach out certain people more than others. I praise Roger Smith's courage for tackling such a difficult issue and never shifting his gaze from the horror of such situation. If you're looking for hardcore, gazing-into-the-abyss literature, Smith's the man you want to read.