A young couple adjusts to life in a rural Vermont farmhouse and the specter of the novelist who once lived there.
Norman’s fiction (My Darling Detective, 2017, etc.) is death-stalked stuff: His novels are suffused with the ghosts of spouses and parents, murders around hotels and lighthouses, and downcast observations of the somber, foggy Northeast. Though nobody would confuse him for a horror writer, he has a keen eye for the way loss uneasily sticks with those left behind. This time he lets the dead do the talking. Simon, the narrator, is a novelist who died of a heart attack on a ferry in Nova Scotia and who’s returned to his home in Vermont to observe its new occupants: Zachary, a private detective, and Muriel, a scholar of Japanese poetry. The two are suspicious of a strange presence; the alarm in their library keeps getting set off, a book by Wallace Stevens (that most metaphysical of modern poets) can’t stay in one place, and the home’s deed has a “ghost clause” that obligates the prior owner to buy back the home in case of a “malevolent presence.” But the home is stressed enough already, as Zachary works on the case of a missing girl that’s torn up the town and sends him down a series of false leads. This isn’t a plot so much as a kind of atmosphere; Simon observes frustrations, losses, and elisions, from miscarriages to missed leads to his widow, Lorca, deep in mourning. Yet, like the poet Muriel studies, who tucks erotic parentheticals into her mordant poems, a little light slips into the story, resolving both the case of the missing girl and Simon’s uneasy sense of place. What opens as a ghost story turns out to be something of a love story instead.
Familiar turf for Norman’s longtime readers, but he still has a knack for finding emotional resonances in muted, unlikely scenarios.