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Spotlight on: Via Dolorosa by Ronald Damien Malfi

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Via Dolorosa by Ronald Damien Malfi Ronald Damien Malfi, Via Dolorosa

"Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, he knew. But he also knew that whatever doesn't kill you sometimes only maims you and weakens you and makes you angrier and colder than you ever thought possible. Not for the first time, he acknowledged that, sometimes, it was probably better just to have it kill you." -- from Via Dolorosa

Nick D'Nofrio was a lieutenant in the Iraq war, where he saved the life of one of his men. Now he's a newly married man, paying for his honeymoon at a resort hotel on Hilton Head Island by painting a mural on their wall. But he can't get away from his past, especially not with the father of the man wholse life Nick saved working as the hotel's bell captain (he got him the painting gig), and his injured right hand acting up whenever he tries to do any painting.

Nick is on a downward spiral, and he won't let his wife be a support -- choosing instead to spend inordinate amounts of time in the company of a Spanish photographer who only wants details on his war experiences (and any photos he has or knows about) -- shaking up his marriage at a time when what he most needs is stability.

Author Ronald Damien Malfi returns to Raw Dog Screaming Press (the publishers of his highly acclaimed modern gothic novel The Fall of Never, their inaugural release) with Via Dolorosa, an entirely different kind of horror story: a misguided war's effects on one of its participants. Malfi's forte is in his examination of the darkness of humanity, the horrors that we inflict upon each other, most often without intending to. The Fall of Never was about the negative effects of family, while The Nature of Monsters focused on how much we'll take from the people we believe are our friends.

Now, with Via Dolorosa, Malfi turns his keen eye on marriage and how one person's emotional baggage can sour the experience for both parties. The title (it translates into "The Way of Sorrow") lets the reader know what is ahead: this is a dark, sad, and depressing novel, but it retains a modicum of hope through Nick's constant struggle for escape, in whatever form it avails itself. Whether through the guise of a Spanish photographer or in the shadows of the pointedly named Club Potemkin, or even just at the bottom of a bottle of Red Truck, Nick's continual pursuit of a way out rescues his story from utter bleakness. The often dreamlike quality of the prose suits this novel told from the perspective of a troubled protagonist who spends the majority of his time deep inside his own head.

Via Dolorosa is Malfi's best book yet. It is his most insightful and his most personal work to date. And with it, he marks a significant step forward on the road to being not only an author that people want to read, but also one whom other writers seek to emulate.

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