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Shelf Indulgence

Books. Reviews.

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Aftermath
Chuck Wendig
Dhalgren
Samuel R. Delany
Jackals
Charles L. Grant

Perfect Circle

Perfect Circle - Sean Stewart One can find book recommendations in the oddest places. I used to read Spot the Frog, a charming comic strip about a frog living with an older gentleman. I recently heard that the strip was ending, and discovered that the author had a blog. In the blog, I found that this writer was a fan of Joe Lansdale, among other writers I like, and along the way I read his review of a book by Sean Stewart about a haunted man who could see the dead. It sounded like my thing, so I found it at the library.

On the cover of the book, Neal Stephenson gushes, “Stephen King meets Ibsen. Trust me,” and that’s about the scope of it. It’s a literate horror novel, with some delicious imagery and emotion. Just as you start to think that this is a character-driven novel of personal struggle, the author throws in a couple of plot elements to keep you hooked. But he’ll still keep you guessing, as the end of the main plot ends about 40 pages before the end of the book. There’s a lot in the book to keep you interested, and to keep you reading.

The book is about William Kennedy, a man who has been able to see ghosts since he was about eight years old. He knows they are ghosts, because they are always black-and-white, even when everything around them is in color. They get to the real world through the use of “ghost roads,” which are gray alleyways, sidewalks, or corridors that they walk down. The roads are their connections back to the living, and each ghost is connected for one reason or another. Maybe it’s revenge; maybe it’s because they have something to tell a loved one; maybe they just don’t realize yet that they are dead. When Will tries to help his cousin with one of his ghosts, he finds something dark and dangerous, and then when his cousin dies as a result, Will goes from being the man who sees ghosts to a man who is haunted by one of those ghosts.

The imagery of the ghost roads is amazing to me, and when the author gets down to describing Will’s own journey down one of these roads, you will find yourself entranced. The author writes in a crisp, lean style, and he manages to bring the world of the dead to life with a minimal amount of words. The book is only 243 pages long, but you will find yourself thinking that the book has to be longer. There’s so much packed into this brief novel that you may find yourself drowning in the narrative without realizing you were even submerged. And what you’ll find as you read the novel is that Will is haunted, but not because he sees ghosts.

This is an extraordinary novel, and not the sort of thing you would expect if you go into it thinking that it’s going to be a horror novel. It’s deeper and more resonant than that type of genre fiction, and you will find yourself thinking of it long after you’ve finished it. In Ibsen, you find a lot of idolizing of man’s struggle against himself; in Perfect Circle, you’ll find the same thing, and this is what makes the novel work so well.