The ghost of Daphne du Maurier was probably consulted during the writing of Goodman’s latest romantic suspenser (The Drowning Tree, 2004, etc.).
It’s a tale assembled and narrated by novelist Ellis Brooks, who’s among the artists invited to the upstate New York Bosco estate, a “sacred wood” of sorts complete with luxuriant gardens, hidden grottos, complex waterworks—and a history of parental grief connected to “the Blackwell Affair,” which Ellen is researching. The story dates from 1893, when Aurora, wife of wealthy timber merchant Milo Latham, hired medium Corinth Blackwell to contact the spirits of her three children (victims of a diphtheria epidemic)—only to suffer the kidnapping of her sole surviving child Alice, presumably by the resourceful psychic and her con-man partner and lover. Ellis, herself the daughter of a flower-empowered Wiccan mystic, becomes uncomfortably attuned to the (doubtless vengeful) spirit of the place, and Goodman thus juxtaposes the tale of the Lathams’ miseries with Ellis’s absorption of their past and relations with her fellow guest artists. These latter include pot-smoking celebrity novelist Nat Loomis, flinty biographer-critic Bethesda Graham, sensitive hunk landscape architect David Fox and distracted poet Zalman Bronsky, whose gnomic sonnets-in-progress hold increasingly ominous clues to the details of the Blackwell affair. A suicidal Indian maiden, several monogrammed teacups and a pair of disastrous séances figure prominently in the heavily furnished and dauntingly complex plot—which Goodman handles with considerable skill. But there are just too many signs and portents, perturbed spirits, guilty secrets and variously illicit relations for even the most moonstruck reader to sort through.
More of the same from Goodman: not half bad, not all that good.