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AMERICAN GHOSTS by David Plante

AMERICAN GHOSTS

A Memoir

By David Plante

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-8070-7264-8
Publisher: Beacon

From novelist Plante (The Age of Terror, 1999, etc.), an often-lyrical memoir of religion lost, sexual identity discovered, vocation found, and near-madness born of obsession.

This time out, Plante crafts a coming-of-age story that’s often surprising and illuminating, but sometimes conventional and even a tad dull. The author, who has Blackfoot ancestors, begins when he’s seven and afraid of the ghost of an Indian he imagines seeing in the neighborhood woods, and he ends with accounts of a close friend, novelist Mary Gordon, attempting to help him rediscover his Catholicism, and of his journeys to France in search of the burial records of some 17th-century Plantes. The boyhood portions are striking, none more so than the memory of a nun at school who appears to have an attraction for the young student. Helping him dress for a school play, she lightly touches the nape of his neck: “My body began to shake.” His body shakes later on, too, especially when, during a college year abroad, he hooks up with his first gay sex partner, a strange man named Öçi. The pair travel around Europe together, and much later Öçi dies of what seems to be AIDS. Plante eventually finds his permanent partner, a young Greek named Nikos, and then discovers that he is flirting with insanity as he tries to understand the images that haunt him. For a time, he records them in a journal at night, one image per page; after two years, he has 650 pages. What do they mean? Why do they keep him awake? Why does he write so obsessively that even Nikos has trouble getting his attention? Like several other memoirists, Plante assumes that substantial passages from his journals or commonplace books are interesting when often they aren’t. The final short passage, a French prayer once overheard, suggests that he has achieved a sort of epiphanic peace.

A talented writer wrestles with demons, endeavoring to define and thus restrain—if not defeat—them.