Book Review: The Road to Vermilion Lake (Vic Cavalli)

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A love story that left me banging my head against a wall.

TL;DR – The tale of a blossoming romance between two unlikely lovers.



Why I read it…

I was lucky enough to have the author offer me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Story…

TW: Contains descriptions of bodily mutilation, sexual content, drug use, and sexual assault.

Thomas Tems is a blaster for a construction firm, building an idyllic residential area around a remote lake. Thomas soon forms a relationship with the architect behind the project, a brilliant young woman and devout Catholic, called Johnny.

The Road to Vermilion Lake explores their budding relationship, the difficulties that come from the clash of religious backgrounds,  and the troubled histories of the characters, and the frantic search for Johnny’s missing sister.

What I liked…

In it’s purest form, I enjoyed this story. I read it all over the space of a day, so something about it must have grabbed me.

I enjoyed reading about the building relationship between Thomas and Johnny. Johnny, as a devout Catholic, has a great deal of extra rules about what constitutes morality that are alien to Johnny, particularly around intimacy and sex. It was interesting seeing how the pair worked together to navigate a potentially difficult situation, even going so far as to create a map of morally appropriate places on Johnny’s body that could be touched before marriage. It was bizarre, certainly, but it was really nice to see a really thorough and clear example of how consent and communication can and should work in a relationship. Which, incidentally, is something I will come back to in a moment.

I also enjoyed, much to my surprise, the character building behind behind Thomas’ best friend Dave. Dave is introduced as the kind of man who ruts about the bars, having one night stands with women whose names he never bothers to learn. I was all prepared to hate him, which I suppose was very much the point. but Dave’s character is fleshed out, and we learn about his troubled past as a drug addict, ex-con and artist. He builds a relationship with Johnny’s sister while she is in the hospital, and falls apart when she leaves him to go to New York. His story is incredibly sad, and builds beautifully.

Finally, and I suppose this goes back to my first point a little, but I really loved the way this book dealt with the realities of love and lust, in particular with the theme of temptation. Cavalli introduces a character, Carol, who appears outside Thomas’ trailer on even, stinking drunk and looking for Dave. Carol is, by all accounts a beautiful woman, who basically throws herself on Thomas. Thomas’ temptation is explored at this point. He is madly in love with Johnny, who he is dating happily, but she is in New York, and he has urges. What I love about this scene is not the fact that he resisted, but the fact that he came so close to giving in, panicked and then ran off to make arrangements for this random drunkard to be cared for overnight. It’s so real and so human and it makes Thomas a stronger person when Carol comes knocking a second time.

What I disliked…

I have to preface this section with a quote from the book, you’ll see why in a minute.

“I was reading Faulkner’s Light in August. I’d never read him before and I was stunned by his genius. He’d just taken 10 pages to allow a mule to walk thirty feet…”

This quote comes in, according to my kindle, 89% of the way through the book. Which means for almost the entire book I found myself reading descriptions that where anywhere between somewhat excessive and needlessly clinical. The descriptions of gun related topic, for example, read like they were lifted verbatim from a gun catalogue. Don’t get me wrong, my favourite book (Les Miserables – Victor Hugo) is, at times, full of mind-numbing description that make you want to tear the book in half, so Cavalli is in not alone in a love for excess description, but it still bugged me. Hence the quote. It at least demonstrates that it was done on purpose for artistic reasons I don’t understand or appreciate.

Now we come to my big gripe and return to the concept of consent I mentioned earlier. Johnny sets out extremely clear boundaries as they begin their relationship, and I mean extremely clear. The map I mentioned earlier? Four perfect diagrams of Johnny’s body, front, back and both sides, show exactly where Thomas was permitted to touch and where he was forbidden. In terms of consent, this is about as explicit as it can possibly get. Which is why I was so furious when Thomas did this:

I gently caressed her there, knowing full well I was in a no entry zone…

Now after this, Johnny was more or less OK with this, but Thomas broke the explicitly stated rules of consent, so what this is, is a sexual assault. One that he knows full well he is committing and just doesn’t care, in fact he even seems proud of it, turning Thomas from a good, relatable character into someone I can’t stand. I know consent can change as things go along, but he makes no attempt what-so-ever to try and find out if it’s OK, presumably because he knows it won’t be.

There are a few other minor gripes like the use of the word “rump” which just made me laugh, but they are overshadowed by the last bit.

Final thoughts…

I enjoyed the story, I was bothered by the description and I hated the male lead. I’m not sure what to make of that. I feel a bit mean only giving this book a 2.5 rating, because I did enjoy the story itself. I think if the excess descriptions were cut down and it was made into a short story I would love it, but there you are…

Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

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