Book Bag: ‘Living With the Little Devil Man’ by Lina Lisetta; ‘Strange Attractors’ by Edie Meidav and Emmalie Dropkin

Published: 5/30/2019 4:49:14 PM


By Lina Lisetta

Austin Macauley Publishers

Sterling, a 19-year-old man who’s the central character in the short novel “Living With the Little Devil Man,” is battling with a number of issues. He’s hooked on various drugs and has a plenty of scars — emotional and physical — from a childhood filled with abuse. When he was boy, he almost drowned in a motel swimming pool through his parents’ neglect; his father regularly beat him; his mother was addicted to drugs.

Sterling also has a regular psychic visitor, especially at night: the “little devil man,” essentially a small demon that shows up to torment him at times of high stress and raw emotion. “Whenever Sterling got really upset … the little devil man would would visit him … [and] would taunt Sterling, just when he was feeling his worst.”

“Living With The Little Devil Man,” by Lina Lisetta, is a story not just about Sterling’s problems but about the larger opioid epidemic, and particularly about trying to treat people with an addiction — something that, as in Sterling’s case, is often accompanied by mental health issues — with compassion, empathy and love.

Lisetta earned a doctorate in Child and Family Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and has taught at colleges in the Valley for some years. She serves with regional organizations working to combat substance abuse, including the Hampden County Addiction Task Force, and is also involved with some research projects on the issue.

The unnamed narrator in her book is something of a stand-in for the author as she recounts Sterling’s story. In fact, she dedicates the book to “those who have suffered from addiction, the afflicted and their loved ones. I wish you peace and recovery.”

The narrative of “Living With The Devil Man” goes back and forth in time, beginning with Sterling’s trauma in the swimming pool as a boy and the first appearance of the little devil man. The story then jumps ahead to a scene in which the teenage Sterling has overdosed and is in the hospital, clamoring to leave but in no shape to do so.

The narrator describes herself as Sterling’s mother, even though there is no familial connection. But there is a strong emotional bond: “This may seem odd, but the first time I met Sterling when he was 19, I knew he was my son. Somehow, he belonged to me and I had to take care of him.”

It’s an often heartbreaking story in which the little devil man, as a symbol of the self-hating voice Sterling hears in his head and his growing problems with schizophrenia, keeps raising the level of abuse he inflicts on Sterling. The narrator does all she can to help Sterling deal with his problems — and to love him — as he passes into his 20s and approaches 30.

“Sterling knew me,” the narrator writes. “He knew my spirit, how I wanted to be treated, and he knew my boundaries. He knew to treat me as a mother, just like I knew his spirit, how he wanted to be treated, and his boundaries.”



Edited by Edie Meidav and Emmalie Dropkin

University of Massachusetts Press

Can life be like the plot of a novel by Ian McEwan, whose books often turn on a random encounter or seemingly small event that upends his characters’ lives? Edie Meidav and Emmalie Dropkin, who teach creative writing at UMass Amherst, would say it’s a real possibility. In the book they’ve co-edited, “Strange Attractors,” they’ve compiled essays from 35 fellow writers whose lives took unexpected turns for unusual reasons.

The title of the book, published by University of Massachusetts Press, is drawn from “the strange attractor,” a scientific theory “that describes an inevitable occurrence arising out of chaos,” according to the book’s liner notes. As Meidav, the author of three novels, writes in an introduction, it seems quite common that disaster or chance often leads to “the exact path called the rest of our life…. somewhere a strange attractor granted you momentum, and perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to be led to the exact vista from which you see the gifts along your path.”

In “Rumination in Three Parts,” for instance, short-story writer and novelist Noy Holland recalls living in Tanzania as a young woman and swimming out a bit too far into the Indian Ocean one day. She finds herself “suddenly and irretrievably lost; I could see the shore but I could not see the curve of beach where I lived with my boy from America.”

A tiny yellow fish then appears and seemingly helps lead Holland back to shore; and some years later, as she and a boyfriend lie beneath a tree, looking upward, a yellow leaf twirls down beside them and, due to its color, becomes a sure sign they will marry. “And because of this, two people — a boy, a girl — came to be. Who so easily might not have been.”

“If not for the helpful yellow fish, I might have panicked and drowned,” Holland adds. “The fish seemed to guide me ashore. To wish me life.”

Elsewhere in “Strange Attractors,” writers describe finding direction  and revelation from other odd sources: a typewriter repairman, a cat, a bicycle. The book, says one reviewer, is a “collective spiritual autobiography like nothing I’ve read before … truly and deeply full of wonder. What a stunning constellation of seekers, believers, wanderers, questioners.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at














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