MY SOUL TO KEEP by Judith Hawkes

MY SOUL TO KEEP

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A lethargic ghost story from Hawkes (Julian's House, 1989) that ignores a basic rule of the genre: These things are supposed to be scary. Rural Tennessee is where Annabel ""Nan"" Lucas, a New York fashion photographer, lands with her son, Stephen, after her marriage to fine-art photographer Gabe Phillips comes unraveled. Seventeen years her senior, Gabe has been hard at work for some time both on a resentment of Nan's success and on a midlife-crisis affair with a children's shrink. Nan figures that a return to her grandmother's homestead, willed to her after the revered old lady's recent death, might offer a chance to escape the pressure-cooker of Manhattan and let her reinvent her life. A rangy, honey-talking hillbilly-lothario cousin, Sky Barnett, helps out immeasurably, eventually bringing about some scenes of lovin' at a genuinely high sizzle. But despite Nan's welcoming relatives and the recovery of her artist's eye (she decides that fog-shrouded apple orchards make more aesthetic subjects than pouty models), son Stephen slips into eight-year-old petulance, disdaining Sky and retreating into an imaginary friendship with a boy named ""Woody."" The narrative gets a needed kick when Stephen's imaginary pal is revealed to be the ghost of Tucker Wills, a kid who years ago saved Nan from drowning in a frozen quarry, only to lose his own life in the process. Stephen, evidently blessed with precocious powers of supernatural perception, can see and hear Tucker, as can Nan, although she can see him and hear his plaintive pleas only when he wants her to. Gabe eventually shows up, providing ample urban skepticism about the dim locals' faith in moody spirits, but Stephen's repeated disappearances and accidents draw even the essential New Yorker into Tucker's paranormal efforts to make peace with Nan. Hawkes has a great ear for her characters' speech, but beyond that (and the yee-haw sex), a good chill is hard to find.

Pub Date: Jan. 22nd, 1996
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Dutton