THE GHOST-MAKER by Kathleen Kilgore
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In the 1960s freakdom was glamorous. But ""where did the screw-ups go now?"" So wonders Lee Connors, 17, expelled from a fancy prep school--and currently staying with his grandmother in a Florida retirement community. . . while his parents get divorced up in Washington, D.C. Understandably, Lee is bored silly as a generally unwelcome visitor around Palmetto Pointe; he's also increasingly bitter about lack of interest from his harried father, his busy-career-woman mother. But then he strikes up a diner-acquaintance with plump, middle-aged, yet still-shapely May Morgan--a raunchy-talking member of the historic medium/psychic community in nearby Seneca Lake: they go fishing; May's wheelchair-bound husband teaches Lee cardsharp tricks; there are stray references to May's mediumistic activities. Moreover, Lee now learns that Grandmother is a devout ""sitter"" at the Christian Spiritualist church presided over by Rev. Eric Sander, who does seem able to find lost objects, materialize ghosts. (Lee's dead uncle appears during one session.) What's going on? Is any of this for real? Well, turning to May for explanations, Lee gets an intense, funny education in the carny/seam aspects of the medium biz; soon, in fact, quick-handed Lee is being trained as a black-costumed accomplice in sÉance shenanigans. (""Look for the sitters!. . . Watch those hands! You tell 'em a million times to sit still and hold hands but you never know when some old fart with a prostate problem has gotta get up to pee."") Still, while having decidedly mixed feelings about his own profitable success as May's assistant, Lee remains disturbed and perplexed by Rev. Sander--an earnest sort who doesn't seem to be using May's tricks. And, determined to expose Sander (whose PR-savvy success threatens to drive mediums like May out of business), Lee makes an unscheduled appearance at a major Sander sÉance. . . with a surprisingly violent finale as the result. Kilgore (The Wolfman of Beacon Hill) shrewdly maintains suspense here by never tipping her hand: you're not sure, until the very end, whether spiritualism is going to be treated with thoroughgoing skepticism or a bit of gullibility. Again, as in Wolfman, the dialogue is unusually authentic, the backgrounds are low-key but firmly realistic, the psychology is implicit rather than heavily spelled-out. (E.g., Lee's attraction--in the absence of a caring mother--to ample May.) So, though less rich or fully satisfying than Kilgore's remarkable debut, this is superior, understated fiction--with lots of charm and tension on the surface, lots more going on between the lines.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1984
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin