Ambitious new work from the author of Half Life (2006) and Patchwork Girl (1995).
This novel begins with an “Editor’s Introduction,” a fact which is sure to excite fans of postmodern gothic, but even before that, we see what looks like a photocopy of a brittle newspaper clipping describing a murder at a “school for stammerers.” The fictional editor goes on to describe an uncanny series of coincidences that fuels her interest in the “Sybil Joines Vocational School for Ghost Speakers & Hearing-mouth Children.” The text that follows is presented as a scholarly anthology, a mix of first-person narratives, letters, and excerpts from a variety of secondary sources. There is an audience of readers who will appreciate this book simply for existing. There is an audience of readers who will enjoy the experience of reading this book. There is also an audience of readers who will be thrilled by the idea of this novel and dreadfully disappointed by its execution. There’s not much to say about the first category, and the second category will recognize itself. The suggestion that there is a third category requires explication. So…the first disappointment is that, although this novel is supposed to be composed of disparate parts, there is almost no differentiation in voice. The “Editor” sounds a lot like Sybil Joines, who sounds a lot like her stenographer, Jane Grandison. There is a formal argument to be made on behalf of this technical choice—the dead speak through the living in this book, and identities are porous—but the monotony undercuts the gothic conceit Jackson alludes to at the beginning. It’s also worth noting that all these nearly indistinguishable voices are equally verbose. No detail is insignificant enough to evade careful notice. “In each perforation of my too-large oxfords, a crescent shadow waxed and waned as its angle to the light changed, or disappeared in my own larger shadow, and inside my loose black stockings, on which tiny fuzz balls clung, my ankles individually flexed and strained.” This novel is more than 500 pages, and it proceeds at this pace.
Postmodern gothic made tedious.