Conversations Among Ruins by Matthew Peters
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Early on in Conversations Among Ruins the ex wife of Daniel Stavros tells him: Dreaming is what gave rise to the idea of the soul. This statement seems to capture what I felt after reading Matthew Peters' powerful novel. Stavros is an alcoholic who slips in and out of reality in a way that causes reality, imagination, and dreams to become indistinguishable.
The book starts in a detox center. Stavros is there because his struggles with the bottle are affecting his life. One of the threatened aspects of his life is his job. Jim Tierney, a department chair at the college where Stavros is an assistant professor, is as supportive as he can be. He's spoken to the dean and arranged for Stavros' position to be held for him if he agrees to enter rehab.
But Stavros goes back and forth between self destructive behavior and decisions to follow through on Tierney's suggestions. He meets Mimi while at the detox, a woman with her own troubles whom Stavros believes is the answer to all of his. Another quote from his ex wife shows that this isn't the first time he's believed a single solution could be the answer. Mixing the right drink, meeting the right woman, landing the best job, it's always been something, something outside of you that's going to make everything all right. Just before we met, remember, Christianity was going to fill you up?
A mystical side to the novel begins to appear about a quarter of the way through the book when Stavros and Mimi decide to visit a seer named Cassandra. A strange painting hanging in her living room seems to pull them both into its scene. Although we can't be sure what's happening because alcoholism and mental illness could be causing hallucinations, the mystic aspects of the story increase as we read on. As I said before, reality, imagination, and dreams are indistinguishable, but everything is important to Stavros. The painting is tied to other things that happen as the story progresses. In fact, every detail in Peters' novel is tied together beautifully.
Conversations Among Ruins is a powerful book that brings out issues concerning alcoholism and mental illness while pointing out the value of life in a way everyone can appreciate.
Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions
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