A coming-of-age narrative about ghosts, friendship, and family secrets.
Jake Baker is a neurosurgeon who takes us back to the summer when he was 12 years old and growing up amid the tackiness of Niagara Falls, a landscape desperately in need of redemption. Although Jake is something of a loner, he hits it off with two kids new to the neighborhood, Billy and Dove Yellowbird. While Billy is the same age as Jake, Dove is two years older, and Jake is immediately smitten by her strength and self-confidence. There to help them all in their transition out of childhood is Jake’s eccentric Uncle Cal, like Jake, an “odd duck” who is almost like a child himself. Cal owns a shop called the Occultorium and has over time “cultivated a network of mystics and paranoiacs and those who saw the world at a different skew.” Through motivations mysterious even to himself, Cal proposes that they form a Saturday Night Ghost Club to explore arcane places around their neighborhood, including a Screaming Tunnel (“Cataract City’s most famous haunted spot”), a car that has been submerged for years in the bend of a river, and the remains of a house that had been ravaged by fire. As he moves through these adventures, Jake transitions from being terrified to accommodating himself to both the strangeness of his uncle and the strangeness of the world. Through his parents, Jake eventually learns how Cal is connected to each of the venues he takes the children to even though Cal himself doesn’t understand the depth of these connections. As a result of these experiences during this memorable summer when he’s on the cusp of adolescence, Jake’s understanding and compassion are enlarged: tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner.
Through the intensity of his characters’ experiences, Davidson reconnects us to our own memories of growing up.