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THE YEAR OF PAST THINGS by M.A. Harper

THE YEAR OF PAST THINGS

By M.A. Harper

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-15-101116-8
Publisher: Harcourt

In her third outing, southern writer Harper (The Worst Day of My Life, So Far, 2001, etc.) attempts an old-fashioned ghost story set in modern-day New Orleans.

Things start out on a sunny note: Newlyweds Philip Randazzo, five-star chef and owner of Tasso Restaurant, and his beautiful bride, the lovely blonde anthropologist Michelle, sit down to a breakfast prepared for them by Michelle’s teenaged son Cam. But why is the cat freaking out? And why does it make an intolerable fuss whenever the happy couple enjoy conjugal relations? After a strange teenaged boy appears on the stairs during Thanksgiving dinner, Philip suspects the truth: The family is being haunted by Michelle’s former husband, the moderately famous Cajun musician A.P. Savoie, who was killed in a car accident three years before. Michelle, having been through some wacky spiritual experiences in the Yucatan, is game to accept this explanation. Things get weirder. The family ghost appears in visions and dreams, makes a phone call, leaves a note through a video-game screen and even has a sexual experience with the lady of the house via the Jacuzzi in the master bedroom. (What did ghosts do without modern conveniences?) Philip gets jealous, and the two men, the living and the undead, jostle for the role of patriarch. Philip asks advice from an Anne Rice–like novelist, the couple consult a medium (who works by day in the personnel department of the local newspaper) and dally with exorcism (performed by Philip’s brother Dominic, a Catholic priest). They decide the ghostly conduit is a Zippo lighter. They get rid of it. Things calm down. But there’s one last ghostly episode to go, when Savoie returns to aid the most unlikely family member of all.

Harper might have had better luck by sticking to the real travails of blended family life. Her spooks often amount to simple silliness—and her menfolks’ relentless macho posturing often makes one yearn for divine intervention.