Thursday, January 20, 2022

The Voices in My Head

 I’ve known Charlie Stella for over ten years, and I’m lucky to be able to call him a friend. He was largely responsible for my first publishing contract, and has been a tireless supporter of my writing, and of me, for years. He and his lovely wife, Ann Marie, drove overnight from Fords NJ to Oakmont PA to attend the launch of Grind Joint. (He did forget the cannoli, though. I was a big enough man to forgive him.) Charlie is a force of nature with a heart as big as Yellowstone. 


I thought I knew him pretty well until I read his new book, The Voices in My Head: A Fictional Memoir. I knew he’d been working on it for quite a while, so I figured there was some serious introspection and unpacking going on, but I had no idea how much, or of what. 


Let me start by saying The Voices in My Head is an accomplishment. I could never have written anything like this, and not just because my upbringing was so much more tranquil. Leaving himself out there as he has, with no apologies nor justifications, took balls I can’t imagine. He pulls no punches about his affection for his late mother, nor the unconditional love she had for him. His father, not so much.


What struck me more than anything were the similarities he and I share, such as loves for music and baseball. More specifically, we shared a love of Mahler’s First Symphony when we met; I like to think it was I who introduced him to Mahler 2, which Charlie quotes beautifully, poignantly, and effectively in Voices.  


We also share general insecurities that display themselves in what is probably Imposter’s Syndrome. All of that and more gave me a natural empathy for the main character. Knowing it was Charlie, and seeing the painful ways in which our lives diverged from our commonalities, made this a hard book to read at times.  


Writers often talk about the courage it took to write something when they really mean they’re going to say something that will make people uncomfortable, and may not be a popular opinion. This book took actual courage. As memoirs go, there’s no titillation nor dishing. Except for his father, everyone else comes off Sympathetically, the author accepting responsibility for past differences or hurts. I came away wishing young Charlie could have read it as he was going through the events described, to caution him as to where his decisions would lead. Too late for that, there are still a lot of people who will benefit from exactly such a reading.


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