Sunday, September 9, 2007

Vintage: A Ghost Story
Steve Berman
Hawthorn Positronic Press
Link: Vintage

The unnamed narrator of this story is a seventeen year-old gay man…er boy. In some ways the narrator is mature and fairly well together for a kid whose parents threw him out of the house upon learning of his sexual orientation. In other ways he’s fairly naïve. A wonderful mix for a protagonist. The narrator runs away from home after an unsuccessful suicide attempt spurred on by his parents cruel rejection. He goes to his Aunt Jan’s. Aunt Jan is a quirky, loving woman who accepts the narrator into her home and gives him the exact kind of structured, (school or job, curfews, rules about boyfriends) unconditional acceptance that his parents should have.

Starting over in a new town, the narrator make friends with Trace, a “Goth” girl whose dysfunctional family clings to its remaining members with a fierce devotion seen only among the truly screwed up. Her younger brother, Second Mike, was named for her older brother who disappeared at age 11 and is assumed dead. Her mother is institutionalized and her best friend can see ghosts. And they aren’t exactly the friendly Casper sort.

The narrator discovers he can see the spirits of the departed when he actually sees and speaks to the town’s urban legend. The ghost of a young high school boy who was killed by a drunk driver on a lonely stretch of highway walking home from a party. The ghost, Josh, becomes fixated on the narrator and begins to haunt him obsessively to the point of nearly killing the narrator’s new boyfriend, Second Mike. The narrator must find a way to lay to rest Josh’s ghost before he actually succeeds in killing either Mike or him.

The story is a good one. The plot and characters are engaging. But it has some problems. First of all the book should have been a Young Adult novel. It even includes a blurb by Holly Black, writer of Tithe, on the cover. All that stands between it and the YA classification are two sex scenes that come across as unnecessary and forced. The intimacy could have been alluded to and left at that. They were poorly defined and really lacked any enhancement of the plot. They really do seem to be there just to keep the story from being YA. This is a shame because as a YA book this would have been stellar, as an adult book it lacks depth and complexity.

Most distressing, however, is the poor quality of the publishing and editing. The copyright is present at the bottom of the first page of each chapter. (Huh?) But worse are the serious mistakes the editor didn’t catch. In correct verb tenses and sloppy punctuation abound. I’m not nitpicking here. These are obvious and pull the reader out of the scene. The timeline is also flawed. Trace is supposed to be in high school, a very intelligent, articulate and well-read young woman. But by the count of time in the book, she’s 19 years old. An no, you can’t use “Goth” apathy as a justifier. As my own “Goth” and emo students will tell you, “Failing your classes is a lame-ass preppie thing to do.”

The story is flawed, but with some better editing it could be great. As an adult book…it’s maybe a 2 out of 5 rating. Sex scenes cut and it’s a 4 of 5 as a YA book.

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