GHOSTLY DEMARCATIONS  by Joe Taylor

GHOSTLY DEMARCATIONS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Taylor’s (Pineapple, 2017, etc.) collection of linked short stories features a recurring protagonist who has a series of spooky encounters.

Kentucky is evidently a hub for spirit activity. At least, that seems to be the case for this book’s narrator, whose real name no character ever utters. In the opening tale, “Galen’s Mountain Child,” he’s only 10-years-old when he and his older friend Galen search for a ghost that appears to be periodically calling out for help. In “Hey-hello/hey-goodbye/hey-weep-no-more,” Galen warns the teenage narrator of two high schoolers who had a fatal car accident about 20 years ago on prom night. Since then, 13 kids have died in similar accidents in that same allegedly wraith-cursed spot. The entries in this collection are chronological, unfolding during the 1960s and ’70s. The narrator eventually attends the University of Kentucky and works at the campus bookstore. While at UK, he sees apparitions in the stories “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Louie, Louie and the Blonde Hippie”; in the latter tale, he has the chance to thwart a potential serial killer. Not every story, however, has a ghost. In “Angel’s Wings,” the narrator hears voices on his staticky crystal radio, including Galen’s, who’s currently away in the Navy. Likewise, “Faithful Companion” is a humorous tale of his blind date, which heats up at a dentist’s office after hours. But the comedy is gleefully dark: When the dentist unexpectedly shows up, the narrator must hide in a closet—with a skeleton.

Taylor primarily takes the traditional route with his horrorcentric tales. One of the collection’s tales, “The Perfect Ghost Story, Plus One,” addresses narrative tropes in ghost stories. A character lists conventions in a tale she relates to the narrator: “Mine is a legitimate ghost story, complete with doll motif, haunted house…mood, moral, warnings, turning point, and climax.” The author’s book is likewise filled with familiar horror imagery: There’s a string of creepy dolls in “I Am the Egg,” and the narrator investigates a haunted house in “Ms. Sylvia’s Home Cure.” There is, however, occasional repetition, such as several characters’ dying in car wrecks and the narrator’s experiencing plot-turning visions (often of someone who’s dead). But Taylor excels at establishing unnerving moods: at a séance in “Tacete,” the narrator recounts, “The hairs on my neck and forearm did a tiny dance. It was as if a gentle overhead air-conditioning had just started up.” The author’s greatest triumph is his protagonist. Even nameless, the narrator is distinctive. Readers, over the course of the stories, watch him move from a Catholic boarding school to college and endure such adolescent woes as his persistent virginity. Galen is equally diverting: Though his relationships with women rarely last, he has a soft spot for Louie, Louie, the Labrador mix he adopts. Throughout, Taylor has fun avoiding the narrator’s moniker: hobby-shop owner Max Howard of “I am the Egg” sifts through a handful of incorrect names while Sylvia simply calls him Bookstore.

Unabashedly conventional horror tales with an understated but remarkable lead character.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-944697-75-4
Page count: 230pp
Publisher: Sagging Meniscus Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
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