Author: Charles Souby
Publisher: Infinity Publishing
Set in the 1990's in the San Francisco Bay area where the author is an improv actor, Charles Souby's second novel A Shot of Malaria chronicles the tragic life of a drug and alcoholic dependent musician, Daniel Martin.
Admittedly, this is a moving and deeply affecting work containing a wealth of perceptual observation that exacts a huge emotional toll as it convincingly portrays an addict who is tragically adrift leaving readers wondering how our protagonist will be able to somehow hang on and survive with all of the bitterness, despair and loss he suffers.
Daniel is a very complicated and messed up character whose days are taken up with drinking in bars with other addicts and visits to a methadone clinic, where methadone is dispensed to those who abuse heroin and other narcotics. The primary goal of these clinics is to try and extinguish or reduce opioid usage by putting the patient on methadone. At times these treatments can prove to be successful, however, the use of these treatments is often viewed as controversial.
In the opening chapters we find Daniel being interviewed by one of the temporary counselors of the methadone clinic, and, as we discover, he has not come to terms with the seriousness of his fifteen years of addiction. He informs the counselor that he only needs a short term treatment to find work and put his life back together. Subsequently, Daniel is assigned to a permanent counsellor, Elsie Schwartz, and upon meeting her for the first time, we learn that he makes a little money by playing banjo on the street and that he periodically receives US savings Bonds his grandmother left him that are administered by his aunt.
During the course of further counseling sessions Daniel recounts that all his friends are addicts whom he meets for social entertainment in neighborhood bars. We are also told that one of his closest friends, Cody is dying of cancer. Daniel becomes very much attracted to Elsie, whom he falls in love with knowing full well, however, that nothing will develop other than their professional relationship. He confesses to her that he has been very lonely for quite some time and he will not be able to clean up his mess unless he has a girlfriend. As the tale progresses Daniel meets up with a variety of women one of whom he does enter into a serious relationship, however, she likewise is on drugs and alcohol and to top it off is married to a drug dealer, who is insanely jealous to the point that Daniel's life is in danger.
Souby's detailed and
emotionally honest portrayal of Daniel's desperation is right on the
money and it takes the experience and knowledge of a recovering
addict that makes an engrossing reading out of an entire novel
focused on one character, which is precisely what Souby has
accomplished with this novel. In addition, his deft touch with
dialogue, feel for detail as well as his narrative pacing are all
admirable, and when you combine this with his wisdom in understanding
the depth of hopelessness of an addict, you have quite a memorable
and insightful read. For many years Souby
himself struggled with addiction and in an interview with Good
News Planet Souby indicates that
addiction and recovery have been the bedrock of his writing. He
states that “in many ways it is the best metaphors for the human
condition and he believes that all of our discontents in life are
based on survival and the fear of not getting what we want.”