Mon October 6, 2008
Breathing Out the Ghost, by Kirk Curnutt
There is no question about whether Curnutt's first novel is well done. Breathing Out the Ghost has already won the Independent Publishers bronze medal for fiction and the 2008 Best Book of Indiana in Fiction, and is a finalist in the Foreword Magazine fiction competition.
By Don Noble
There is no question about whether Curnutt's first novel is well done. Breathing Out the Ghost has already won the Independent Publishers bronze medal for fiction and the 2008 Best Book of Indiana in Fiction, and is a finalist in the Foreword Magazine fiction competition. This is a strong book. The real question is whether large numbers of people will be willing or emotionally able to read it.
Set in Michigan and in southern Indiana, in the present time, the action of this novel is driven by some vividly drawn characters, fictional creations who stay with you long after you close the novel, even as you might be trying to go to sleep.
The main character is Colin St. Claire?a husband and father who turns 35 years old in the course of the book. St. Claire has become an obsessed road warrior. He drives the highways of Michigan, Indiana, and nearby states whenever there is a report of a missing or murdered child, for he is searching for his own little boy, A.J., abducted from a Bay City, Michigan Home Depot parking lot. St. Claire has abandoned his job, his wife, and, we learn after a while, his daughter, to search for A.J. St. Claire's profession was computer graphics, typography; he is a designer of typeface, very literary, and keeps painful, sometimes crazy, audio tape journals in his wanderings. He likens himself, consciously, to Captain Ahab of Moby Dick. He's The Ahab of the Interstate, abandoning hearth and the comforts of home in his maniacal search. St Claire has become addicted to amphetamines, is exhausted, dirty, out of money, and out of control, but cannot and will not give up.
He is accompanied, sometimes, by Robert Heim, who has not in fact lost a child, but is just as obsessed. Heim had been a private detective, has crossed the line and lost his license, but still leaves his wife and child to chase down clues concerning abducted children.
The chase brings these two tortured men to Franklin in southern Indiana where there is a missing boy, Chance Birmage. Probably, Chance has been abducted or possibly murdered by his father. The novel makes it pretty clear that just as most dead women are killed by their men, most missing children, those who are not runaways, are taken by their fathers.
The creature these two men are hunting lives in your most terrifying nightmare. D.B.?Dickie Boy?Johnson is a horror, an obese, 300-pound slavering monster, child molester, pervert, killer. He lives in a bus, is always on the move, and luring small children into his bus is easier for him than you could possibly imagine.
It happens that in Franklin lives Beverly Pruitt, called Sis, whose daughter Patty had been abducted and murdered many years earlier. Sis and her husband are the focus of a discussion no one wants to have, ever, and that is how long do you search, how long do you grieve, do you ever put it behind you, do you ever move on? Is it unfaithful to the memory of your dead or missing child if you ever experience joy again, for the rest of your life? This is not a happy book and it cannot have a happy ending. The Dickie Boy Johnsons of this world are real, and they are out there, ready to destroy some child's life and therefore his parents' lives if there is so much as a moment of inattention.
Don Noble's book reviews can be heard each Monday on Alabama Public Radio at 7:35 a.m. and 4:44 p.m. Recently retired as English professor at The University of Alabama, Don's specialties are Southern and American literature. Don also hosts Bookmark on Alabama Public Television.