Lyrical prose elevates ghost story from prosaic to poetic
Laura Whitcomb’s poetic, lyrical style perfectly suits this ghost story of self-imposed exile and redemption. Her stunning descriptions of the spirit world versus the physical world outweigh the lack of spiritual depth. While perhaps not the most enlightening example of new age fiction, reading her book is a delightful experience nonetheless.
Story: Helen died 130 years ago as a young woman. Unable to enter heaven because of a sense of guilt she carried at death, she has been silent and invisible but conscious and sociable across the generations. Her spirit has been sustained by its attachment to one living human host after another, including a poet and, most recently, a high-school English teacher. While she sits through his class one day, she becomes aware of James and he–unlike the mortals all around them–is aware of her as well. James, who also died years earlier, inhabits the body of a contemporary teen, Billy. James and Helen fall in love, he shows her how to inhabit the body of a person whose spirit has died but who still lives and breathes, and the two begin to unfold the mysteries of their own pasts and those of their adolescent hosts. . . . In the subgenre of dead-narrator tales, this book shows the engaging possibilities of immortality–complete with a twist at the end that wholly satisfies. (From amazon.com)
Spiritual/metaphysical content: Low. Whitcomb deliberately avoids addressing the deeper spiritual aspects of the plot. She speaks of “God” and “heaven” as general terms that fit well within Christian teachings but are open to broader interpretation. She focuses narrowly on the disembodied spirit’s existence on the earthly plane, side-stepping why she cannot see other ghosts or what may lie beyond her heroine’s own experience. However, her portrayal of a fundamentalist Christian family is quite specific and judgmental, compared to the even tone of the rest of her writing.
My take: Laura Whitcomb writes in a lovely, lyrical style perfectly suited to a book from a disembodied spirit’s point of view. The novel is categorized as young adult because of the protagonists’ age, but the writing is sophisticated enough to satisfy a more general audience. Her sensuous descriptions of experiencing the delights of human sensation again after 130 years reawakens the readers’ own senses and engenders a new appreciation of our own corporeal experience. Whitcomb’s characters are finely drawn, with enough back story to make their experiences realistic and believable. The tight plot quickly builds to an emotionally satisfying resolution.
While A Certain Slant of Light barely qualifies for the category of metaphysical fiction, the book is a deeply satisfying exploration of personal redemption and forgiveness from a spirit’s perspective. What the story lacks in depth is counter-balanced by enough general spirituality and lyrical, sensuous prose to make the novel a satisfying, enjoyable read.
A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb
Published by Graphia, 2005
Paperback, 282 pages
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