Ghosts, more figurative that literal, haunt Jackson’s third novel (Between, Georgia, 2006, etc.).
Laurel, who makes artistic quilts, and her computer geek husband, David, live with their 13-year-old daughter Shelby in Victorianna, a gated community in South Georgia near the Alabama line. One night, Laurel sees/dreams about the ghost of Shelby’s best friend Molly, who is dripping wet. Laurel watches as Molly passes through her bedroom window and sinks to the bottom of Laurel’s swimming pool. Laurel wakes screaming. In fact, Molly has drowned in what the police rule an accident. But Laurel has suspicions about a creepy neighbor. She is also terrified Shelby is somehow involved although Shelby swears she was asleep, as was her cousin Bet. Bet has been visiting for the summer, Laurel’s pet charity case from the trailer-trash town that Laurel’s mother escaped through marriage years ago. Using Bet’s pathetic need for affection, Laurel pulls worrisome information from her and begins to track the truth about Molly’s death. Lovably Aspergish David can’t help, and Laurel’s mother pretends never to see ugly truths, so Laurel, who has her own difficulty disturbing decorum, turns to her older sister Thalia, an actress who likes to live on the edge and has always found both Laurel’s life in Victorianna and her marriage stultifying. With Thalia around, cracks begin to appear on the surface of Laurel’s ever-so-controlled life. Thalia forces Laurel to confront problems in her marriage and to realize that the death of her Uncle Marty, her first “ghost,” was not what it seemed. Laurel is meant to be the heroine but she’s such a dolt, readers may not feel she deserves her happy ending after jumping to conclusions that turn out dangerously wrong. The tragic figure, Bet, gets short shrift, as if Jackson doesn’t quite know what to do with her.
An entertaining but shallow spin on a Southern Gothic.