D. Pat Thomas

Writer, Yoga Teacher, Lover of Things Outdoors


Beneath a Scarlet Sky

Posted by Pat on May 9, 2021 at 7:30 PM

Every once in a while, I read a book than fundamentally changes my world view. This is what happened to me when I read Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan. Though the book is written as fiction, it is heavily rooted in painstaking research of the experiences of an Italian boy, Pino Lella, as he grows into a man before and during World War II.

The story itself is riveting, the events astonishing in and of themselves. Pino’s loss of innocence is profound and profoundly sad. From being a giddy, girl-enthralled teenager, Pino’s grit, faith and skill – whether guiding Jews to the border of Switzerland, skiing with a pregnant woman on his back or driving while being shot at – are a credit to humanity itself. But it is the loss of humanism – by both the Allies and the Nazis -- that so deeply affected me. War leaves people so deprived, so powerless, so savaged -- that savagery against one’s fellow man becomes inevitable. Not only that, but the shear randomness of life is epitomized when Pino’s sacrifices end up being of questionable value.

If all this seems macabre and disillusioning, such that you are thinking of rejecting my recommendation of this book, please reconsider. This is a story of  human dedication and resilience, a story that will amaze and magnetize you, a story of life itself: you should not miss it!



Posted by Pat on November 1, 2014 at 3:25 PM

Obviously, I have not rushed to be an early review of this now familiar novel. That’s because I don’t read erotica; I prefer thrillers. So why am I it now, especially when it is so widely described as trash? Curiosity finally got to me. How could it be so bad and so successful at the same time? I wanted to unearth the mystery of Terrible Writing With Astounding Success.

It took a while to read, because the book was so seriously bad I put it down for weeks at a time. But ER did do a number of things right. She created an engaging protagonist: a beautiful, smart, naïve college girl, ostensibly normal until she met Mr. Grey. ER also created a murky, unreadable protagonist who had sympathetic qualities (good looking, smart, successful, abused, needing and feeling love) yet who could not control his darker side. Then she made the protagonist irresistibly drawn to things dangerous and destructive. Moth to flame, Ana could not stop herself from making choices that were bad for her, she could not pull away. We can all relate in some way: the sugary donut, that last glass of wine we didn’t need, a spontaneous purchase $$$, whatever. We all make choices that are bad for us, so we empathize.

All this was under laid with reader curiosity about what weird sexual act Mr. Grey would perform on Ana next, how painful it would be and whether she would be horribly damaged as a result. There was more than physical danger involved; this bright young innocent played in the minefield of depravity, diminishing self-worth, shattering ability to choose and suffocation of her will. In this way, ER created a huge amount of tension on almost every page. Not bad.

That said, the book was just damn irritating. Whenever something would happen, Ana would say “Oh, my”, “Holy cow,” or “Holy shit,” again and again. If that weren’t bad enough, she had an “inner goddess” who “looks like someone snatched her ice cream.” Indeed, she not only had an inner goddess, she also had a subconscious which would occasionally rise to consciousness and have conversations with her inner goddess. It was like the diary of a schizophrenic; the reader ends up with a vicious migraine.

Do I recommend that you read 50 Shades? No. Not unless you don’t mind your heroine having an inner goddess with pom-poms. On the other hand, the book represents some sort of bleeding edge where sexual tension and danger escalate enough for readers to plow through bunches of crap to save the heroine. There just has to be some sort of lesson there for all of us. My guess? Mix a moral theme in with your characters’ physical danger, make them deeply conflicted then put them on a mutually destructive path. The formula is certainly popular with fans.