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Book Review: Black Crow White Lie by Candi Sary

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Candi Sary’s debut novel, Black Crow White Lie, is a kind of metaphysical coming of age novel that doesn’t require a belief in the metaphysical, supernatural or any other new age philosophy. Its beauty, much like Richard Bach’s early works Jonathan Livingston Seagull, A Bridge Across Forever, Illusions, is in its revealing the universal strength and self-confidence to be found in the human spirit.

Told with the simple prose and narration of a thirteen-year old, street smart boy – though that sounds a paradox, it is an apt description of Carson Calley and perhaps all of us – there is at once a naiveté and a native wisdom that is endearing and admirable. It’s to Sary’s credit that she draws characters who seem to stand way over the mainstream line, yet are readily identifiable and easy to empathize with. The author has penned an emotionally stirring tale of heartbreak, growth, and acceptance that bodes well for her future.

Carson Calley is a young boy, entering his teen years, living an unconventional life. He and his mother, ‘Juliette Bravo’ as she has legally changed her name to, live in a series of Hollywood motels. This is not the Hollywood of glamor, but the Hollywood of seedy characters, seedy bars, and seedy motels. His mother makes her living telling fortunes. She spends her nights in bars and drinks too much and leaves Carson to raise himself. But she tells Carson stories and helps him understand just how special he is:

We were Indians – California Indians. This pale skin was once native brown. And these legs of yours were once big and strong so that you could run after deer and shoot them with your arrows, and then bring the meat back to me. You were destined to be a great medicine man, the great healer who would take away all the pain and disease of our people.”

And now that their spirits are reunited, she tells Carson, he is once again destined to be the great healer of this generation. But for the time being, the only healing he does is to cure his mothers hangovers. When he puts his hand near her head he can feel the tiny stars emanate from his hands and they heel her in a way that he doesn’t fully understand. He doesn’t remember the first time he used the stars, but as his mother tells him, he just knew he had them in him.

Carson was ten when his mother first told him the above story, and though he sometimes wishes that he and his mother had a more conventional life, it is easier for him to accept and appreciate his life the way it is knowing the stories and knowing his destiny is to be a great healer, someone super special. In almost all other ways, Carson is just a normal boy. He’s skinny and a bit nerdy and takes a lot of bullying for this fact, along with his secondhand clothes, his not having a father, the stories he relates about his life, told to him by his mother.

He’s also got anger problems. When frustrated, he often breaks things and strikes out violently, but he figures this must be the downside to his healing gift. He makes do with the flamboyant and funky people of Hollywood in place of a family. One of his favorite haunts is The House Of Freaks, a tattoo shop run by a scary-cool guy named Faris with a bald, but tattooed head – in fact every inch of Faris except his face is covered in tattoos. Faris listens with a practiced ear to Carson’s stories about his life, his mother, and even his growing crush on Rose Lewis – the bitchiest girl in fourth grade. Faris becomes a father figure to Carson, giving quiet advice and guiding him through Hollywood life. His other best friend is Casper, a tall, lanky albino who runs a head shop.

One day, after learning that Casper is deaf in one ear, the result of an odd encounter with a bush while high on mushrooms, Carson calls the stars from his hands and heals Casper. Casper is amazed and offers the use of a room in his head shop for Carson to heal people as a business. At first Carson is reluctant and doesn’t have faith in himself, but after healing colic in a baby Rose is babysitting for, Carson’s confidence grows and he goes into business with Casper. He eventually tells his mom and she encourages him to use his gift. She also hires another healer to guide Carson in the ways of healing. Pretty soon, Carson has a huge underground following and a Hollywood starlet comes to him and is healed from cancer and his reputation grows to the extent that he wants to save the money to visit his father’s grave in Washington, D.C.

His mother has told him stories of his father too. Not only does he have the blood of his mother, a psychic in his veins, but his father was a great military hero and was a super-spy for the government. He was such a finely trained killer that he could sit perfectly still for hours until a crow would land near him, taken in by his perfect stillness. Then his father would swiftly grab the crow and wring its neck before you could hardly see him move. As Carson learns the power and extent of his healing gift he dreams of going to Washington, D.C. to the Cemetery of Heroes and raising his father from the dead so that he can bring him back to Hollywood and have a normal life.

As Carson matures, he begins to think that all may not be as he thinks. He starts to see his mother as an alcoholic, instead of a tortured soul. She spends more and more time away from him and the motel rooms, and more time with her boyfriend Jackson. When she is hospitalized after a long drinking binge and Carson tries to heal her, and Faris doubts the truth, Carson’s confidence is further shaken.Then, after witnessing some of her fortunetelling he begins to think she is not always honest with her clients and that, perhaps, she makes things up to please them. When, to celebrate his thirteenth birthday, he gets a tattoo of a black crow on his arm to honor his dead heroic father – and his mother doesn’t even notice – his disillusionment grows deeper.

As his confidence is further shaken, and he begins to doubt that he even has a healing gift, Carson sets out on a journey of discovery. To ultimately find the truth among the white lies. To see if he really is a special human being. He’ll also have to confront and ultimately atone for his anger and destructive actions.

What Candi Sary has penned in a short 160 pages is a modern parable. It lays bare the soul’s needs to find itself unique; it explores love even when lies exist; and most of all, as Carson matures and grows, it shows us that inside all of us  can exist a tiny seed, a gift that makes us special if Candi Saryonly we’ll believe in it and let it take root.

Ms. Sary is a graduate of UC Irvine and grew up in San Pedro, California. She’s been a finalist in several writing competitions and Black Crow White Lie was a top finalist in the 2009 William Faulkner – William Wisdom Writing Competition and a semi-finalist for 2010 in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. This is her first novel, published by Casperian Books, an independent publisher out of Sacramento, California that specializes in genre, mainstream, literary, and experimental works.

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About The Dirty Lowdown

I was born in Pomona, California at a very young age. I had a pretty normal childhood…or I was a pretty normal child hood if mom is telling the story. I was a paperboy and washed cars. I was a soda fountain jock-jerk and a manic mechanic but my first real job was as a labor organizer in a maternity ward. Then, because of the misjudgment of a judge I spent nearly 10 years in the service of our country mostly on KP duty. Our country sure turns out a lot of dirty dishes. I am a past master at pots and pans. They eventually recognized my real talent and let me wander around some very unfriendly places carrying a big radio that didn’t work. Along the way I took up the bass guitar, jotting down stories, electronic engineering and earned a degree in advanced criminal activities. I spent most of my adult life, if you can call it that, working in the I.T. industry, which I was particularly suited for since we worked in rooms with no windows. On and off I taught in colleges, universities and reform schools as a student teacher… I like smog, traffic, kinky people, car trouble, noisy neighbors, and crowded seedy bars where I have been known to quote Raymond Chandler as pickup lines. I have always been a voracious reader, everything from the classics, to popular fiction, history to science but I have a special place in my heart for crime fiction, especially hard-boiled detective fiction and noir. I write a book and music review blog for all genres at The Dirty Lowdown. And another dedicated to Crime Fiction and all things Noir called Crimeways. It’s named after the magazine that appeared in the Kenneth Fearing classic, The Big Clock. There I write scholarly reviews of the classic hard boiled, noir and crime fiction books from the 20's through today. Mostly I drool over the salacious pictures on the covers. I also write for Tecnorati/BlogCritics where i am part of a sinister cabal of superior writers.