This was my first introduction to the author James P. Blaylock. His writing is fantastic and I can't wait to read more by him. Great writing, and an amazing story.
This book was a chore to read for me. Many of the issues that annoyed me about it won't necessarily get under another reader's skin: the jacket promised me one story, but through the first third I had only seen that story three times, as Blaylock instead showed a historical timeline (and its history just struck me as off, somehow); too many of the viewpoint characters were Evil (as in, *just* evil, acting solely out of greed and, well, evilness); the book touched on a number of issues that are personal for me (southern California, depression, mental illness, and child care to name the biggies) and while I can't say that Blaylock gets them *wrong* I can say they felt wrong, and felt manipulative; and finally, the portrayal of women (three total innocents, two batshit crazy evil chicks, and while that could just be a product of the Good/Evil divide, the one major male antagonist had a sympathetic reason for being the antagonist) just pissed me off.
But I could probably have looked past all that if it weren't for the failings I saw as inherent to the novel itself. I was promised something atmospheric, haunting, evocative; I got a fantasy story of the most literal sort. Everything that happened plot-wise was obvious, and all the descriptions were labored (at least to a California native; maybe readers who've never seen a chapparal environment needed all the repetition). There was a fair amount of "Oooo, what shall I do next to spite the hero, muwahahaha!" internal dialogue and my least-favorite storytelling trope ever, "I can't tell so-and-so this piece of information that will save all our lives because. . . I just can't." And while I know those last two items do often work for other readers and so should maybe be in the first paragraph, they're just so bad that any writer that uses them goes on my "never read again" pile.
It's a grey, wet winter in southern California and Phil Ainsworth is alone. A recent widower, he gets eerie sensations as he roams around the big, old house that belonged to his mother. He's sure he's seen people lurking by the old well that, in this weather, always seems ready to overflow. But how much is real, and how much is in his head?
Then more bad news arrives: Phil's sister has died, naming him as guardian of her ten-year-old daughter, Betsy. It's not a good time to bring a child into this unhappy house, but Phil promised to look after her - and she's all the family he has left.
What Phil doesn't know is that Betsy is a special child - one who possesses a link to the emotions of the past, the voices of the dead, and the uncanny powers closing in around this house...
The central conceit of this elegant, accomplished contemporary ghost story is that fuentesAsprings in which children have been ritually drownedAare portals of inexact time travel. A byproduct of the ritual, and of time-traveling, is that memory is cast off in the form of a crystal stone, which allows its holder to experience the cast-off memory, which "might be transferred to living flesh." Hale Appleton, leader of the Societas Fraternia, a spiritualist cult, creates one such crystal in 1884. The stone is then stolen, and pursued to the present day. Timelines and characters overlap here. Scenes from previous centuries take place on the periphery of the present story line, wherein Phil Ainsworth, an insular photographer who lives in Southern California, where Appleton made his sacrifice, gains custody of his niece. People from the past and present converge on Ainsworth in an attempt to get the crystal, or to block the portalAa well on his propertyAfrom being neutralized. Ambitious plotting and characterization augment Blaylock's (Winter Tide) lush language (ripples in a well "cast a hundred shifting shadows... crisscrossing in geometric confusion"). This is one ghostly tale that stands on very solid ground. (Aug.) ("Paper Dragons," 1986) and one for best short story ("Thirteen Phantasms," 1997).
If you like stories about the good the bad and the ugly ghosts you'll love this one. It is riviting. It took me just a couple pages to get into and then i could not put it down. Young Betsy has powers and can hear voices, she moves in with her Uncle after her mother dies. They live in his family home that her Grandmother owned. There is a well that both Betsey and her Uncle have seen faces in, this is a pretty scary story if you live in the country or near the woods, and i do. Slept with the lights on. It was a perfect read for a winters night.
Ghosts and villans, well written my first by this author
but not my last.
Okay story very original.
haunting, intriguing, and dramatic, this book will keep you in it's grip.
Attention! This book has been damaged by a red watercolor marker in the lower right corner. It is still readable. None of the printing has been compromised.