The Rest is Illusion by Eric Arvin
A coming of age story with a supernatural bent, set on the campus of Verona College. The story centers on five students whose lives are further complicated by an unseen force that surrounds the college, changing them forever.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Rest is Illusion is a re-issue of the first book Eric Arvin wrote. Thankfully he’s re-issued it so anyone who missed it the first time around, like I did, can now enjoy this fascinating tale. Written almost like poetry with a beautiful flair for prose and description, the story reads like a magical experience. I’m somewhat shocked to read this was Arvin’s first published book since I’m more familiar with his humorous and raunchy romps. This is a departure from any style I’ve read of the author’s and yet it still remains so uniquely his. This is a simple experience yet so complex it’ll stay with you.
The story wanders a bit while following four friends and a villain on a small college campus. There is Dash, a young man with a fatal degenerative disease marked by intense and debilitating pain. There is Ashley, his albino roommate. Sarah, the token straight girl in love with Dash but still a strong support while Tony is the classic closeted jock. And finally there is Wilder, the classic evil villain. In some ways all of these characters are caricatures. They are stereotypes of tropes yet somehow they manage to break out of those roles over the course of the story and become more real, more relatable. The story tries to follow these students over a few days as they find love, lose love, and deal with the consequences of their actions.
The story is mostly character driven but also maintains a hefty dose of supernatural. This reads not so much paranormal, but more so a deep spirituality. The forest setting surrounding the college is imbued with life and mystery and the writing reflects that incredibly well. Here the lyrical, poetry quality of the prose brings to life the mysticism and magical qualities that surround the forest and the characters. If you’ve ever taken a moment on a clear night to look up at the sky and think what a magical night it is, this story is exactly that. It’s filled with magical nights and moments of spirituality, making the sum of all the parts greater than the whole.
This is the essence of why this story is so compelling and memorable. It reads like the magic most people want to believe in but don’t. So here is an excuse to revel and indulge in the best way. Some of the characters are overdone and the villain in Wilder is so classically evil, so clearly over the top that he’s too much cliché. The fact that his resolution only happens through some magical forces also frustrates but it’s the moments of honesty that shine so much more. Such as the quiet time where Dash accepts his mortality and fears his hands looking like his father’s. Or the moment when Ash is angry that Dash didn’t let him be there for him from the beginning. Even Sarah and Tony’s selfish whims and fear for their future help bring each of these four characters out of their stoic existence into something more complicated, more intriguing.
There is no classic happy ending but the story is about spirituality, romance, and finding yourself. All of these men and women find themselves, for good or bad, and come to accept their choices, with just a touch of magical help. I’m pretty impressed with this offering and if you’re looking for something different, something memorable.. check this out.