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  • TITLE: Perfect Circle
  • AUTHOR: Sean Stewart
  • AWARDS: Shortlisted for Nebula & WFA

    “I see dead people” said a troubled, little boy from the movie The Sixth Sense almost 10 years ago. The first-person protagonist of Perfect Circle sees them too, but it leads to a far more profound impartation than Shyamalan's eventual one-trick pony. Their deeper meaning is more akin to Williamson's Ash Wednesday (also on my Best Of list) from 1987. In that novel, ghosts suddenly appear all over town in the spots where they died. Their showing quickly bleeds to pained rememberances and dark, hidden secrets. Perfect Circle uses this mesmerizing concept in a different way, for, our hero Will “Dead Kennedy” Kennedy, lives with these animated spirits on a daily basis.

    The two, beforementioned citations are quite plot driven, as discovering the why and how engenders much of the interest and excitement. This book, however, amazes in that by the time an explanation should be revealed, it doesn't really matter. Through Will, you have spent so much time in his black and white deaderworld, the supernatural element is accepted as quite mundane. But, like any good ghost story, it'll still haunt you well after its last page is dead and buried.

    It's just that there are more important issues that need attendance.

    And author Stewart weaves through it all in such a down-home, self-effacing voice that you love his washed-out, deadbeat hero to sufficiently grant latitudes only bequeathed on best friends and blood brothers. He squaredances with enough familiar Southern family clichés to fill a trailer park, but ultimately embraces the bonds and loyalties that make living within a dynamic community of relatives endearing and meaningful. A lot of them are dead, but that only strengthens the importance and remembrances of what they have to offer. Of course, not all of these are good things. After all, “sometimes a guy is haunted for a really good reason” (Small Beer Press, ISBN 1931520070, c.2004, p.31).

    We are all possessed by events of the past gone sour. Some are mistakes we made, some are controlled by others, and then there's just plain bad luck. It's the blaming that gets tricky. Will was raised in the steeped traditions of shaming and control-by-guilt, and, combined with the added “rivers of grief” (p.128) the dead people pour on daily, he has problems with responsibility, commitment, and setting his emotional compass to true North. His instinctual reaction is to withdraw when pressed. He seeks out drunken bar brawls as donning a hairshirt, but his edge is fishhooks in the jacket lapels that tear at anybody rowdy and challenged enough to embrace him. In his in-and-out, skewed world, you see, when “you love someone, they're in you like a fishhook. Can't just pull them out” (p.143).

    Like most of us, Will is seeking acceptance. He was raised “like I was a small appliance: whack me a time or two if I went on the blink and otherwise ignore me as long as I didn't interfere with the TV reception” (p.108). He wants to be cared for; he wants to matter; he wants to be loved. There are three women in his life, all of which have checked out of his. AJ, a kissing cousin murdered by her boyfriend at twenty-two years of age, haunts him through mirrors and windows. She is his romantic yet thanatotic notion of the perfect love circle: unbound, sovereign, quixotic and eternal as death. She is the constant reminder that he'd “never loved a woman enough to kill her” (p.71). In the world of living color, there's his ex-wife Josie and their daughter, Megan. Josie's remarried and Meg's wearing training bras and calling her step-father “Dad”. From his pity-potty seat, Will views the failure of their marriage like a tattoo on his forehead that reads LOSER. Megan's plead to “Don't Screw Up” (p.220) is a checkered flag waving him in last place for the parenting run. They are the living ghosts of Love Past and Love Future until Will admonishes that they're not his hoodoos, but driven by their own, individual spirits. After all, “ghosts don't do things to you. Ghosts make you do unspeakable things to yourself” (p.155).

    Stewart mixmasters through Fantasy, past Horror, and, with a dash of Southern Gothic and a big spoonful of Magic Realism, has created a transcendent vision where everything vibrates with unfolding significance inside emigrating metaphors. Definitions become slippery when coated with a symbolic nuance that's just outside the anticipated bounce, but Perfect Circle resonates with enough narrative guts and human sympathy to resurrect trusty themes and premiere them as neoteric.

    Or, to wade into Stewart 's pond, the fishhooks may be rusty with use, but the fish still bite at fresh bait.


    © copyright 06/30/2007 by Larry Crawford

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