Breathing the Ghost Out by Kirk Curnutt was not a one sitting read. I took it in chunks of 60 or 70 pages at a time, but the text was dense with imagery ,and the main characters were so complex, I needed to take time to mentally digest in between sittings.
The story is not an easy one to explain in a paragraph and I don’t want to give too much away. In my opinion there are three main characters and each is haunted by a traumatic event involving a missing or murdered child. The ongoing grief eventually brings all three into contact with each other.
Colin St. Claire has been on the road for a solid year in search of his abducted son. He is in search of the man who may have been responsible and travels to towns where children have gone missing in hopes of finding something to put an end to the open-ended nature of his tragedy.
Sis Puritt’s teenaged daughter was raped and murdered seventeen years earlier and, though she has gone on to found a group that helps other parents of murdered children and eventually have two more children, she still finds that much of her life is spent dealing with the perceptions others have of her for soldiering on in the face of tremendous loss.
Robert Heim is a former private investigator who lost his perspective, his license and is close to losing his wife and family after becoming involved with St. Claire’s quest to find his son, A.J. and A.J.’s supposed abductor, a pedophile named Dickie-Bird Johnson.
According to the author, Dickie is also a main character, but I found the short narrative side-trips into Dickie’s world distracting. I would have liked to have spent more time with Heim, especially after he begins his quest to right his own life by tracking down St. Claire and convincing him to return home.
St. Claire, Heim and Puritt are brought together by the disappearance of a child in Puritt’s rural Indiana community. Curnutt knows that part of the Midwest well and his descriptions of small town life and farming are rich in the depiction of the places and the people who inhabit them.
Grief and the seeming life long grip that it has are a couple of the larger issues the book deals with, but it also touches upon the argument of how a person should deal with loss too and how personal the choices are.
The characters are beautifully real. Sis and her husband Pete reminded me in some ways of a dear friend and her husband who is also a farmer. Sis’s younger sister Martha reminded me of my own sister, DNOS, with her frankness. Heim is every inch the investigator one comes to expect in a mystery, dogged and rational and unable to walk away. St. Claire is tragic and yet you feel the exasperation the other characters have for his inability to live with his loss as most others are forced by life to do, and like I did a bit myself.
If anything slows the pace, however, it is the long, textured soliloquies of St. Claire’s. A self-proclaimed victim of “loggorhea”, he tape records himself on all manner of subjects for a son who is not likely to ever hear the tapes and his conversations with other characters quickly become one way streets as he goes off on referential tangents that cover a wide range of literary, movie and musical targets. But being essential to the core of the character, I am not certain the author could have edited much of that out and still retained the essence of who St. Claire is and what shaped him.
It’s a very good book. Not a mystery in the Agatha Christie vein but still a puzzle with interesting twists. Don’t be frightened away by the dense text. In all it probably took me less than seven hours to read it over the course of a week, and I am not the speed reader I used to be.
Be aware, however, that it is sad and the content dealing with Dickie is point blank and uncomfortable in its frankness.
If you would like to know what others are saying about the book check out some of the other reviews on the tour:
Monday, January 5th: Diary of an Eccentric
Tuesday, January 6th: Ramya’s Bookshelf
Wednesday, January 7th: The Sleepy Reader
Thursday, January 8th: Crime Ne.ws, formerly Trenchcoat Chronicles
Monday, January 12th: Savvy Verse and Wit
Tuesday, January 13th: Educating Petunia
Wednesday, January 14th: Michele- Only One ‘L’
Thursday, January 15th: Book Nut
Friday, January 16th: Anniegirl1138
Monday, January 19th: Caribou’s Mom
Tuesday, January 20th: Lost in Lima, Ohio
Wednesday, January 21st: A Novel Menagerie
Monday, January 26th: Catootes
Wednesday, January 28th: Bloody Hell, it’s a Book Barrage!
Thursday, February 12th: She is Too Fond of Books