Tuesday, Jan 20, 2009
The Ghosts That Lie Within Us All…
The ghosts that lie within us all can steal our breath and steal our a part of our soul. The ghosts of our past, who remain such an inexplicable part of our present, can haunt us without the remorse of knowing they are doing such. The ghosts of memories can trap our hearts so that they can no longer grow beyond that time when they were actually permanent fixtures of our existence. Breathing out those ghosts can be something that only some of us can accurately perform.
Title: Breathing Out The Ghost
Author: Kirk Curnutt
Author’s Website: www.kirkcurnutt.com
Publisher: River City Publishing
Publisher’s Website: www.rivercitypublishing.com
Number of Pages: 329 Hardback
ISBN #: 978-1-57966-070-3
This book is haunting, and that’s not a PUN just for the sake of this review. This book remains with you long after you complete it. The subject matter of this book is not for the light-hearted nor for the parents who cannot imagine the unimaginable. I am a mother and nothing could be more horrific to me than losing my child to an abductor or a murderer. I am not sure that even the most imaginative and insightful of authors can fully expose the complete, warped, and evil insanity of a child molester, although Curnutt comes very close in this chilling tale. He is a thought-provoking writer who has built characters of enormous depth in Breathing Out The Ghost. But, in my mother’s eye… the one that lies in the deepest part of my soul… the crazed thought process of a sick lunatic can never be fully communicated without our ability to actually crawl into that shell of a deranged mind and hear its inhumane thoughts.
The characters in this story are different than those you would most likely meet in your every day life… or, at least for me. They say, “A parent should never have to bury their child.” I believe that, but wonder, “what if?” What if one of my precious babies was hunted, hurt or killed? I don’t think that I could bear to live on without the undying desire to enact revenge, although the Lord of my heart would forbid me to do so. But, what if?
This book leaves me knowing its characters and understanding their motives. Breathing Out the Ghost is a story that I will not soon forget and most likely not forget. The summary of the book describes itself as:
“Colin St. Claire is on a dangerous mission. His young son is missing and he is on a self-appointed quest to find the boy, or at least the man he believes is responsible. Fueled by amphetamines and a profound lack of sleep, Colin’s road soon dissolves into such an uncontrollable spiral of blurry white lines, of fleeting forms in the night and ghosts of memory as intangible as vapor, that he degregates into a self-professed “Ahab of the Interstates.”
“In the shape of a noir thriller, Curnett fashions a gripping tale of the consequences of unchecked grief, of painful truths hidden as though they were dark secrets, and what salvation remains possible for good people who descend into the darkness and become the very ghosts they find themselves pursuing.”
I could no better describe the premise of this novel than what is written above. There is a more than one main character to this this story and each of them has a tremendous hurdle to overcome, emotionally. Not all of them make it over. I best relate with Sis, the mother of Patty, who was stripped from her life by a brutal, senseless act with no reason nor explanation. Sis and her husband Pete are forced to face the remainder of their lives with this enormous gaping hole in between them. How they deal with their marriage and family is something that I can understand, however cannot relate to. The pain must be unbearable…. the pain of losing what your love has created. Does that loss rip apart the love that it was created from? I don’t know, and thankfully, my children rest safely under my roof.
Unlike other books that I’ve read which give readers a glimpse into the mind of a child molester, this one chilled me to the bone and I’m at a loss of words to explain to you why. I suppose, there are people that can be blamed when looking at “why” these murderers and molesters do such unspeakable acts. I recognize that some of the sicknesses developed in these people are created by their parents themselves. There is just such a lack of morality in the demise of such evil-doers and I pray that the advancement of civilization does not stifle the growth of spirituality and God’s presence in the human spirit. Where is God in this? As parents, I suspect it’s our duty to ensure that God remains in our families to protect our children. It’s such a clique, but… you need a license to own a dog or drive a car… but, not to have a baby? It’s absurd what some parents do to the fragile minds of their children. Enough said.
Curnutt… he is owed much more in my review than my questions about why this happens in today’s world. He is owed my accolades for writing with such intricacy and wisdom. He is, simply, an EXCELLENT writer. People, I’m sure, spend lifetimes trying to find the words that seemed to have eased right on out of Curnutt’s pen. At times, I was re-reading portions over and over again to get the wealth of understanding just one sentence. He was born to be a writer.
Poignant Quotes of the Book:
“It’s funny. Back then I would have given everything I owned-which, obviously wasn’t much-for a little peace of mind. Now I’ve lost all I ever wanted, and I’m afraid to sleep. I’m afraid to even rest my eyes for fear of what I might miss.”
“Wind is a sound without shape, another ghost, another claustrophobia. There are so many now, I run into them, headlong, all the time.”
“Yes, it was once quite nice to think shallow people had it easy. No needs, no wants, no problems. And that we, by contrast, were special because-why? Because we could never settle, could never compromise. Perpetual disappointment was a sign that the needles of our machinery were more finely tuned. It meant we were more sensitive. Like a seismometer, we were privy to those faraway vibrations lessor folks could never detect.”
“I suppose I knew it would end up this way. I could feel him growing out of my brows, bleeding out my skin. His kisses blistering mine. I could feel me becoming him. I didn’t want to. I wanted my life to toe a line. Your love was the line I wanted to toe.”
“They were fallen because they were doomed to be felled. And they were felled because they couldn’t accept that they were fallen.”
Interview Questions With the Author:
1. What prompted you to write on the subject matter of child abduction? How did you find the ability to reach the depths of despair and grief that the characters were facing?
Years ago I read a Vanity Fair article about the parents of Etan Patz, who was probably the first famous modern missing child (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etan_Patz). At the time of the article it had been twelve years since he disappeared; come this May it will have been thirty. I was struck by the dilemma his parents faced: how to soldier on hope against hope that their child was still alive when time seemed to be conspiring against them. Their struggle seemed a deeply human example of the larger question of how we all grieve, and where on the continuum between stoic resolve and melodramatic despair an individual might fall. There have been a slew of books inspired by the Patz case. I read a few just out of curiosity but somehow felt dissatisfied by them—not because they weren’t great books (most of them were), but because I never felt the authors examined what a missing child means to us on a deeper, more symbolic level—how it evokes in us a fear of absence, whether of family, control, or even God. The situation also promised an opportunity to really explore character, which is what about fiction interests me, much more so than plot or politics. I made a decision early on that I wanted to do Ghost in a way that forced the dramatis personae to confront their flaws as opposed to sentimentalizing their heroism. I’ve had enough grief in my own life that I felt reasonably capable of getting to the thick of their fallenness. Plus there’s a little secret ingredient called empathy. It allows a writer to create people not to judge or justify them, but to lend a certain poetic dignity to their brokenness. We’re all broken in our own way, and it’s only by thinking of how others are that we avoid obsessing over our own state.
2. Your great-grandmother was Edna Parker, the oldest documented person in the world. My condolences to you and your family on your loss as she has recently passed away… she made headlines worldwide. I believe that you provided a tribute to her in your book by penning the character Ethel after her. One of my favorite parts of the books is the one in which you provided a scene in which Ethel is living with her ghosts and remembering her life. From your website, I see that you were able to share with her your published work. Were you able to also share with her that a character in your book was based on her?
Thank you for noting Edna’s passing. She left us this past November 26, the night before Thanksgiving. It took my family by surprise, as odd as it sounds, because we were so accustomed to her being with us that plans were already in the making for her 116th birthday, which she would have celebrated this coming April 20th. I always knew if I was ever be lucky enough to publish a novel, I would set it in that area of central Indiana—the farmland between Franklin and Shelbyville—that my mother’s family was from. Every writer has a setting he wants to believe is the sole property of his imagination, and that place is mine. At some point when I realized what the fact of my great-grandmother’s living so long could add to the story of endurance I was trying to tell, I thought it would be neat to include a character based on her in the book. As fantastic as it is to have lived 115 years, the reality is that it is also a lonely journey because you watch so many of your contemporaries go before you. Edna, for example, not only outlived her two sons, but she was a widow for nearly 70 years. My mother was kind enough to give her a copy of the book after I did a signing in April 2008 at a great indie bookstore in Shelbyville called Three Sisters (http://www.threesistersbooks.com). Edna was delighted that I based a character both on her and my other great-grandmother, Vivian Eberhart, who passed in 1995. She always knew me as the little oddball who goofed around with the typewriter whenever he visited the farm, so she was happy that I’d finally managed to harvest something out of that playing.
3. Kirk, how long did it take you to write Breathing Out The Ghost? How many “re-writes” did it take? How did you feel when it was published and breathed to life?
It took a lonnnggg time to do the book. About 17 years from conception to publication, to be honest. A lot of that time was spent not writing. I simply didn’t have the ability until I was nearly forty to do the novel. I wrote a lot of other books to get to that point—academic studies, articles, stories, etc. About once a year I would pull out a draft and work on a paragraph and say, “Nope—not yet.” Then somewhere around 2000 I managed to complete a draft. I had a major publisher express interest but ultimately decline it, so the manuscript kicked around about five years before a great indie press called River City Publishing was kind enough to pick it up. Then it was another two years to get it out. Along the way it came close to winning a couple of creative-writing contests. All told there were about six drafts over those six or seven years. I would add characters, develop others, cut unnecessary ones. Originally there were even more subplots. At one point I had several chapters about a new type of methamphetamine that had burst on the scene in Michigan in the early 1990s—it had nothing really to do with the main story, so it had to go. Throughout the entire process, I struggled with both the beginning and ending. I was fortunate to work with a great editor, Jim Gilbert, who helped me block out the structure and talk me through my own dissatisfactions. There was one point where I was really blocked and he said, “Just break the timeframe if you want and jump forward ten years.” It was a great experience to be entrusted with that kind of freedom. When I wrote the final draft, I finally felt as if I’d really captured what I was going for. If I hadn’t, after 17 years, I never would have.
4. When and where do you write? To the words come to you with ease, like a spirit that whispers in your ear? Or, is it more of a labored process that takes you digging into the mind of a fictional character?
I usually try to write early mornings, beginning at five a.m. or so. I have what’s called a “hidden room” in my house that I sneak up to. I like to imagine I’m a farmer who has to get up before dawn to milk the Guernseys. That’s not the greatest of analogies because it makes it sound like I have a cow for an imagination, but still.… the only way you ever get better at writing is through the discipline of routine. I’ve known writers who can crank it out as if they’re simply channeling a ghost, but that’s never been my experience. It’s always been a labored process, if only because I think of myself as a stylist—I like the poetry of the language, the intricacy of rhythms, etc. Plus it takes a lot of time to come up with characters whose motives are maybe counterintuitive. Because there’s nothing worse than inventing a protagonist or antagonist whom readers feel they’ve met before, especially when they’ve met them before in somebody else’s books.
5. What recommendations can you give to other writers who aspire to make their dreams come true in writing that one great novel?
The best advice is to develop a work ethic and stick with it. Out of the 17 years it took me to do Breathing Out the Ghost, a good 15 of them were spent convinced I would never get the book published. I always knew I would eventually write it, but, as I said before, it was a matter of getting the ability so that I could. It took a lot of practice. Once you’re at the point where you do feel you can draft a book, you should give yourself a daily page minimum. In my case, that was (and remains) two pages a day. That sounds easy until you actually have to do it. Still, with a minimum you can sort of target a completion date, and that makes a project so much more “real” than saying someday I’ll write a novel.
Thank you, Sheri, for allowing me to visit A Novel Menagerie. And I thank you readers for coming here as well. Blogs such as this are the future of the publishing industry—it’s a great space for readers and writers to talk as if we were sitting in a café in Paris.
On Sher’s “Out of Ten Scale:”
This book is unlike most other fiction books that I read. It is riveting and a “fictional thriller,” for lack of a better description. This book is extremely well-written and is extremely thought-provoking, especially for parents. For the genre of what I will call “Fiction: Psychological Thriller,” I give this book a 10 out of 10.
Add: On the Library Thing & Amazon.Com Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥
Breathing Out The Ghost is a powerful book and one that I’d recommend to a reader who loves the art, beauty and tamber of words. The subject matter isn’t for the light-hearted and does command your full presence in reading it. If you are that reader and you enjoy psychological/fictional thrillers… this is your book. Kirk Curnutt has agreed to award a SIGNED copy of Breathing Out The Ghost to an A Novel Menagerie reader (I had to ask… it was a good book). Here’s your chance to win a copy:
Contest entries are accepted until January 28th at 5pm PST
You may enter by leaving a comment below (please ensure that I have your email address)
You may also enter by emailing me at email@example.com.
If you write a post on your blog about the oldest person in your life, add a picture of the cover of Breathing Out the Ghost, and mention either TLC Book Tours or A Novel Menagerie… you get a TRIPLE entry.
Special Thanks to Bloggy Giveaways Carnival… Check it Out HERE
Visit www.ThursdaysThoughts.wordpress.com on January 25th for a SECOND contest to win a personalized, signed copy of Breathing Out The Ghost. Next week’s MEME/Contest is in honor of Edna Parker.
Where To Buy The Book:
You can purchase a copy of Breathing Out the Ghost by clicking here for the price of $19.71 at Amazon.Com.
- Breathing Out the Ghost has won the 2008 Best Books of Indiana Award for Fiction sponsored by the Indiana Center for the Book
- Breathing Out the Ghost has won a bronze medal in the Independent Publishers Award (IPPY) for literary fiction.
In Memoriam of Edna Parker: