Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite
Alphonse, a first novel by Carl Sever, is unusual, somewhat strange, even occasionally confusing…and yet, despite all that, it’s also unforgettable because of its unique approach, engaging plot line and powerful characterization. Alphonse is actually “Jimmy from the South”, a soft-hearted hobo who goes out of his way to help those in need. That’s how he first became involved with the Sadler family, when Sarah and Edgar were expecting their first son, Zach. It was Jimmy’s kindness that brought them to a safe place to birth their son. From that point on, Alphonse, the Sadlers and their two sons’ lives were inextricably bound to each other, and toward the end of this mesmerizing story, it was Alphonse again who saved the family a second time.
Now, most engaging stories have an evildoer to stir up emotions and propel the action forward. In Alphonse, the evildoer is the small town’s pastor, Monseigneur Brennon. Of course, no one in the sleepy little town of St. Joseph, Indiana would suspect or believe their religious head capable of evil. But Alphonse knows better. He and Father Brennon have a history, and it’s an ugly one. So when Alphonse spots the gentle pre-pubescent child, Francis Sadler, sleepwalking naked at midnight and realizes the boy is losing track of time, for hours each day, has set fire to a stray cat and spends time crushing frogs with stones, Alphonse knows something has gone terribly wrong with this child he has loved and watched over since birth. And though no one is likely to believe him, he knows Monseigneur Brennon is what has gone wrong with Francis.
The first part of Alphonse is narrated, memoir-like, in first person by Francis, an obedient young boy who respects his elders, loves fishing, admires his older brother Zach, and works hard at his chores assisting his vision-impaired father, Edgar. But one day in July, everything changes for Francis and, as a writer, Carl Sever does what isn’t usually recommended: he changes the narrator’s voice into third person. At first, this unexpected change of voice will have readers flipping back to the previous chapter to see if they missed something. They haven’t. But just as Francis loses himself for hours at a time and life goes on around him, he doesn’t remember much of what happens during those lapses. So he most definitely cannot continue the narration. This is what makes the narration in Alphonse unusual, as mentioned in the opening sentence of this review.
The plot is long, but the unfolding of the details is speeded up by excellent use of dialogue, perfectly coloured by the way that folks in St. Joseph's parish would have talked. This makes scenes, and especially the characters in them, so realistic. Readers easily visualize how they look and sound, and more importantly, how they feel. Alphonse is a beautiful story, told with great sensitivity. It will touch hearts and live on in memories. This is an excellent first book by Carl Sever. One can only hope there are several more to come. Well done.