The ghost is in a purgatorial state, believing that if he can just remember, he can move on. The fortune teller, his companion in spirit—literally—assists him in filling in his memory. As the story progresses forward and backward throughout his life, Dear Reader meets the ghost’s family, connections that come and go in his mind, bringing emotions forth that yet again obscure memories. Reference to the ghost as the hanged man portends his metaphysical status, and the conclusion is satisfying in its complete lack of resolution potential, possibly the best ending in fiction. It’s a beautiful thing when an author leads the way to the only inevitable conclusion through a pathway that could only have happened that way, maintaining the integrity of the characters’ personalities. Banks at last evokes compassion for a man who had few redeeming qualities in life, an impressive feat. I received this excellent story of beautiful writing from the publisher Amberjack Publishing through NetGalley.
This collection opens with a tale so convincing dear reader will be googling Count Darlotsoff of the Russian Revolution. Roorbach’s stories ramble along pleasantly, with wit and wisdom, from a unique perspective. Then BOOM! Something astonishing happens, sometimes indicated by a simple line, “And fell into a basement hole,” and sometimes portraying a much larger concept, such as patricide. The tales delve into history—the aforementioned Russian Revolution; plunges deep into socio-political culture—“His father was an important king or chieftain in an area of central Africa he refused to call a country, an area upon which the Belgians and several other European powers had long imposed borders and were now instituting ‘native’ parliaments before departing per treaty after generations of brutal occupation;” and parses human emotions and relationship dynamics—“sharks unto minnows.” There’s even a ghost story, with elements of land conservation, familial squabbles, and burgeoning love. As diverse as the themes are, and as broad the representation of people, one story stands out for its LGBT ignorance, as a main character tells the benefactor of her theater, a widower asking for a kiss, “Marcia had politely allowed just one, then explained that while being a lesbian might not mean she was entirely unavailable, her long-term relationship did.” He then proceeds to win over her wife, and they merrily cavort about town, all three holding hands, doing everything as a threesome. Lesbian relationships are real relationships, and lesbians are not toys for a man’s pleasure. That being said, this is a blemish on a set of otherwise fascinating and weird and brilliant stories. The book is dedicated to Jim Harrison, whose fans will likely appreciate Roorbach’s work.
Aubrey Ellis grew up learning to control the physically ravaging and emotionally draining interactions with ghosts who insist upon her assistance, ghosts who always leave tangible evidence of the encounter. As an adult, she’s settled into a position as a real estate columnist that gives her the opportunity to connect with and aid those who have passed on to continue their journey without too much damage to herself. Then she’s sucked into a decades old unsolved murder after new evidence emerges. Her reluctant partnership with fellow journalist Levi St. John takes her in new and unexpected directions, personally and professionally, and she comes fully into herself.
Although Spinella is designated a romance writer, I found the romance to be an integral part of a paranormal story and not the focus. She spins a ghost story so enchanting that I looked forward to meeting the ghosts and cheered Aubrey on when she succeeded in convincing Levi of her gift / curse. I love when writers understand human emotions, building character integrity and deepening genre novels. Spinelli is brilliant at laying down the elements that came together later in the story, doing so without distracting from the current scene. The tension builds as the story veers from the apparent guilt of one character to another, and I did not guess the true culprit, even with the hints sprinkled about everywhere.
Readers who are intrigued by the possibility of the existence of ghosts and the ability to converse with them will like this story. If you liked the television series Ghost Whisperer, you will love Aubrey’s story.
Thank you, Laura Spinella, for gifting me the digital copy of the first Ghost Gifts. I love it!
The prickling at the back of my neck started about twenty miles from my destination. Though I’d been driving through the night, I was wired as though on triple espresso. Anticipation kept me wide awake. Mom’s threat to haunt me literally came true. She was waiting at the gate to Everton Cemetery, shimmering in the moonlight, just like last year, and the year before, and the first year before that.
The moment I stepped from the car, she was calling to me, “Honey Bear, you made it!” I hate that name, and now I would hear it for the rest of my life, not just the rest of hers. Asking her meant absolutely nothing. I may as well have asked my cat to stop meowing. She loved that name. Ugh
“Come in. Come in. I’ve missed you so much.”
“How does that work exactly?”
And then she was hugging me, ghost style, moving her diaphanous self through me like ice water. I shivered and clenched my teeth.
“Stop clenching your teeth. You’ll give yourself a headache.”
“I can’t help it. You’re freezing me.”
“Oh, you’ll get used to it. Eventually.”
“I don’t actually think I will. Ever.”
“Sit. Sit.” She patted the stone at her grave. “I feel so much ‘more’ closer to my resting place.”
“I don’t even want to know what that means.” I set the ledge of my butt across the top of the stone. “Tell me again how this happened.”
She sighs. “Must we go over this every year?”
I nod vigorously. “Yes, because this is so far outside of what I believed was reality. It still feels like a dream.”
“You’ll get used to it, I swear.”
“I don’t think I will, Mom. I can never tell anyone. Who would believe me?”
Another sigh and she attempts again an explanation. “I panicked. There was so much confusion. You have no idea how confusing dying can be.”
“Yes, I can only imagine.” My hands are on my head pushing my hair back. “Except I have you to tell me from firsthand experience, which shouldn’t be happening.”
She reaches for my hands to pull them away, a familiar gesture, but this time eliciting only the shivering and teeth clenching. So she puts down her arms, steps back, and gently shakes her head.
“The choices offered made no sense until my kids were mentioned. After that, I kept nodding until I signed a contract.”
“Really? Signed a contract. Tell me again how that worked.”
Another sigh and she twirls in a circle, which honestly was fun to watch, the shimmer spiraling. “The paper appeared in front of me and I signed with my finger, just like magic, you know, in that show about that witch that you liked when you were a teenager.” I nodded, recalling my favorite after-school show.
“Did it sparkle, like a magic wand?”
“We go over this every year.” Her hands lay in front of her, palms up, beseeching. “We have only two hours. Please let’s talk about your life.”
“Okay, okay.” She leans back as though against something, in a reclining position on air, an action that makes me inexplicably jealous. “I’m still working at the same place, which is why I get my birthday off still. So no worries.” I give her my best ‘anything for you’ look, pouting just a touch.
“I’m not going to apologize again for having you at 3am. That was not my choice.” She reaches up and behind her, as though around a giant ball, in a melodramatic gesture. “The deal is made. You have to be here at 3am. That is also not my choice. You’re the one who moved so far away from home.”
The stone is making my butt numb. I’ve been here only half an hour and the sandman is sprinkling me. I yawn.
“Don’t you dare fall asleep. You know I cannot control the consequences.” My hands return to my head, pushing back my hair.
“Put your hands down.” I stand up and do jumping jacks. That helps. I try not to think about the wailing in my dreams, reminiscent of my night terrors as a child.
“Okay, if I start to nod off, hug me.” She nods, tight-lipped.
I tell her more about my life, which really doesn’t change all that much, especially in only a year. Then I ask about my baby sister.
“She doesn’t come. Still. I guess night terrors for only half an hour are not enough to convince her.” Her sigh this time sounds more wistful. “She was such an easy birth. Half an hour. Boom!”
Halfway done, I think, as I look at my watch. Fortunately, I am more awake now and enjoying the company of my deceased mother. I’m feeling a pang of guilt, and a little mirth, at the though of my older sister whose birth took 21 hours.