It opens in the 70s with the tragic death of two sisters – Patty, who died first, and Jenna, who followed her beloved sister. Patty’s death came at the correct time and her spirit moved on without lingering. But Jenna? Jenna died too soon and decades later she is still half alive, now “living” in NY.
In this alternate world, every soul has a certain amount of time to live, and ghosts can take time from the living. For the ghosts, any time taken adds to their account, little by little approaching their right time of death. For the living, the time taken prolongs their life – forty minutes here, ten minutes there. Jenna earns every minute she steals with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline, helping out the way she wished she had done for her sister.
But ghosts are not the only fantastical folk around, there are witches too. Witches who want to feed off ghosts to get longer lives and maybe even achieve immortality. . . so when the ghosts of NY go missing and Jenna is only one of two left behind, she sets out to find the witch who is trapping them.
Seanan McGuire has a wonderful ability to write ghost stories that are personal and emotional but also connected to something broader. Reminiscent of her stories collected in Sparrow Hill Road, Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day is a stand-alone novella that beautifully explores the relationship between sisters, at the same time that it works with themes such as guilt, second chances, and going home. With regards to the latter, even though NY is where Jenna has lived for decades and has found a new family with her friends, part of her still calls home the small town where her family – and herself – are buried. This is a crucial part of the main storyline, elemental to the plot at large, in how “home” and “going back” have strength and importance.
In other words, this is a really rich, poignant tale that delves into not only those themes mentioned above but also touches on questions of mortality, loss, guilt, and so much more. And this is exactly where perhaps the novella finds itself in a hard place: there is so much here, I feel this story deserved more pages to fully develop more of this wonderful story, its world, and the characters. It’s tantalising really: I wanted to read more about the witches and the ghosts, about those settled in NY, and wanted more time to spend with Jenna’s found family. Even though it ends and it feels very much a final and rounded ending, there is definitely scope for more. Here’s hoping.
In Booksmugglerish: 7 Very Good Wistful Wishes out of 10.