GHOSTS by Marsha Parker


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Slow-moving and only intermittently diverting, Parker's first novel is a murky blend of young-marriage problems and ghost-lover occultery--with neither of the two genres handled distinctively. The narrator is young Gay Mortenson, a Wisconsin undergrad of Norwegian descent who quickly dumps math-major boyfriend Robert (a bore) when Michael Jones appears on campus: he's a dark, good-looking, Oxford-educated visitor from England. Soon, then, Gay and Michael are married; they live for a little while in a rundown farmhouse (where Gay sees a ghost in Norman costume who calls her by name); after her father's death, they move to a dank cottage outside Oxford. And once in England, Gay's visitations from ghosts increase in direct proportion to her marital discontent: she has trouble with kippers, with being a secretary, with Michael's parents; she hears music and tapping at a castle, does research into Norman times, and finally--on a visit to an old inn--has sex with her totally fleshly ghost, the centuries-ago lover of a doomed girl named Gay de Mauro. (""We had to prove that centuries were nonsense, that time was nonexistent. . . we had to prove that I needed him and he needed me--to soothe one another, to wound one another, to love and to hate."" Etc.) So, after this traumatic infidelity, Gay goes off by herself to brood verbosely; her obsession with the ghost fades (""A passion like ours had spent itself in one fuck""); and she finally decides, having matured a bit, to start all over again with Michael. . . whom she really loves. Unfortunately, the ghost scenes are neither eerie nor ironic--just somewhere blandly in the middle. The marriage and identity-crisis material, too, lacks edge and texture (except for a few of the unpretentious, mildly amusing US/ UK clashes). So: an unfocused, often drearily earnest debut--which doesn't succeed in disguising its thinness with those quasi-metaphorical dabs of ectoplasm.

Pub Date: June 2nd, 1982
Publisher: Dutton