Sunday, September 25, 2011


Let's just get this nipped in the bud right now. Baseball suicides, Legend of a Suicide, No Lease on Life, and now another book heavy into suicide. Should you be worried about me? No, at least not in that sense. No Lease on Life is just a play on words that happened to be squeezed between two readings on suicide. And I didn't really realize how big a role suicide played in Ghosted until I started reading it. So no fretting, OK?

This is the first book that I have read of my new small press collection at the library. Written by Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall and published by Soft Skull Press, Ghosted is about the life of Mason Dubisee, a semi-aspiring writer and an addict of almost every shape and sort. Alcohol, drugs, gambling. Mason finds himself in Toronto where his long-time friend, Chaz, now resides. Chaz is a successful drug dealer who sets Mason up with an apartment and a job, an arrangement that works really well for Chaz given Mason's predilection for drugs and gambling (and his lack of skill at the latter).

The job Mason has is working as a hot dog vendor with the brand name Dogfather. Mason befriends one of his customers, a man named Warren who is afraid of just about everything. Warren discovers that Mason is a decent writer and asks Mason to write Warren a love letter for this girl he longs for at the video store. Mason, always interested in making a buck, does so. Warren is found dead and the love poem is deemed to be Warren's suicide letter.

This provides Mason with inspiration. He'll start a little side business writing suicide notes for people who are looking for an exit a little more literary. The problem with Mason (and he only has this one problem) is that he wants to help people. He finds he wants to save people instead of helping them towards their self-inflicted deaths (but he still doesn't mind taking the money for their notes).

The story is really entertaining. Chaz, at least at the start, has his own sort of lingo ("are you flapjacking me") going which unfortunately vanishes as the novel goes on. Mason, despite being a ne'er-do-well who can't seem to get his act together, is extremely likeable as a main character. So much so that he drives you nuts with his bad choices. You want to reach into the book and strangle him when he sits down yet again to play cards with Chaz after doing drugs he bought from Chaz.

Then you have the other characters. The potential suicides are all really quirky characters. There's the drug counselor with her own set of odd characteristics. You also have Mason's love interest, a heroin addict in a wheelchair who has feeling in one side of her body but is paralyzed on that same side. The side he can control has no feeling.

So two-thirds of the way through this book, I'm loving it. Debating whether it might be able to top Eleven for best fiction I've read this year. I'm liking it that much. Then it careens into one of the darkest, most depraved things I've ever read in my life. It came completely out of nowhere and was really disturbing. At that point I was left wondering how I felt about the book. Up until this point the book was a really entertaining and unusual story. Suddenly there's this psychopath involved and the entertainment factor is lost. Then it becomes a bit of an action story. Can Mason save the day?

All the loose ends are tied up, some in a manner a little too forced for my looking and some a little too out there for my liking, but the story returns to it's previous charm. Chaz even gets some of his lingo back.

That left me with my review and rating. The writing was spectacular. I didn't ever want to put the book down. The characters are great. Unlike, say, Savages, where the characters are involved in activities generally frowned upon by society, I liked these characters and were rooting for them. I didn't view Mason as a bad guy. I saw him as someone with problems who wasn't happy with his lot in life.

Speaking of which, the title comes from the idea that we have these goals and achievements we want for ourselves in life. We picture ourselves as a writer or an astronaut or a professor at Minot State. But life takes it's crazy turns and we don't always reach our objectives. Nonetheless, these pictures of ourselves stay with us and are "ghosted", haunting the recesses of our mind, making us think of what might have been.

There are a number of scenes where we learn about Mason's past and I think that helps make him more sympathetic to the reader. The oddball nature of all the other characters give them appeal as well (with the exception of one). And the story, while it goes every which way, is captivating. Without a doubt, I will remember this book for a long time.

But then there's that crazy dark section. It's part of the reason I'll remember this book. It's disturbing. I don't know that I've ever winced from a story I was reading before (bad writing, yes, but not the story).

I think, much like Lemon Cake, this isn't going to be a book for everybody. I can see some people putting the book down when the story turns. But it's still an awesome book and will be one of my favorites from this year.

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