Kirk Curnutt


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


I am still in the thick of plotting my first quarter but so far the following are on the books:

January 16 is y review of Kirk Curnutt’s Breathing the Ghost Out. I am about a quarter of the way through and have to say that this is an author who knows how to breath life into his characters. They are very real though uncomfortable.

On January 21st I will be guesting blogging here, and writing about my favorite bookstore in my old West Des Moines stomping grounds.

Another TLC book tour review of Ingrid Cummings The Vigorous Mind is scheduled here on January 27th. This book hasn’t arrived yet, so I can’t tell you much about it first hand, but I am excited. Essentially she writes about cross training the mind to health and happiness through diversity of activities.

Finally, another book giveaway! On Monday, January 12 I will host a week long chance for my dear readers to win a copy of Wendy Tokunaga‘s Midori By Moonlight. I haven’t yet gotten my copy, but I was intrigued by the synopsis. Young Japanese woman with a dream and a pending wedding to an American arrives in San Francisco, but things don’t work out the way she’s envisioned them. I don’t read this type of book a lot, rom-com-ish women’s lit, but I like the genre and wish I had a talent for it. Very excited to have the opportunity for another giveaway. I love giving books away. Come February I hope to have a few more giveaways in the works.

I am still weaving my quarterly web of writing tasks. I am finding that breaking my time into 90ish day increments to be most helpful, but I have still not discovered my John Deere tractor in terms of a project. One that will grab hold and not let go. And no, the memoir is not in that category. The memoir is an Ahab thing. What I am talking about is that one idea that fires the creative neurons and swamps you with the need to write. And yes, I know too well a writer cannot live off divine inspiration alone. The grind of writing is the norm. But I know the lightening strikes are out there. The readiness is all.

Stay tuned.


Monday night was Parent Watch Night for BabyD’s ballet class. I took her out of the other dance school in town this fall because I was tired of the last minute expectations, nickel & diming, and the fact that there were a couple of girls in BabyD’s age group who were – um – destined to be the kind of teens I regularly mowed down as a middle school teacher. Uppity little girls either learned to be respectful of others or to keep their yippy mouths shut in my classroom. 

After a shaky start, I find I made the right decision. The new instructor is very well-organized, knowledgeable and has a grasp of classroom management that keeps things moving and the focus on dance. The class is also much smaller and BabyD is thriving.

I am not big on watching her every movement. I am a bad mother who does not find every activity my child enthuses on equally enthralling, nor do I care to gaze adoringly at her all the time. So during swim lessons I brought a book or a notebook for writing, glancing up to watch here and there but I certainly wasn’t rapt for 45 minutes.

Watching the dance class required not just watching things I have watched her do through the observation peep hole many times over the last few months, but I had to sit on the hardwood floor. Even during yoga, I get a mat. 

So I took a few photos and then pulled out my notebook (I always carry a tiny one in my purse) and began to write a piece I have in mind to submit to the Globe and Mail. I would write a bit and watch a bit and take another photo. But the last ten minutes or so were long and I succumbed to the lure of the pen and paper and got lost. Until I heard,

“Mom, are you ever watching?”

I looked up to see BabyD and her little friend doing their stretches and watching me write.

“Of course,” I replied quickly, guiltily stuffing the notebook into my purse and quickly snapping a photo.

BabyD then turned to her friend and said with a sigh,

“She’s a writer.”

Which marks, I think, the first time she has acknowledged my new profession.

My 50 Something Moms piece, In Praise of Teachers, was in syndication this week. I managed to pick up most of the news outlets I have on my last two outings in syndication. It wasn’t a humorous piece however so it didn’t do quite as well. I have three new pieces there as well. Here, here and here. And I hope to have another one next week.

The memoir inches along. I did complete NaNoWriMo but have found that the pressure of the deadline made it easier to generate a high daily word count. I need to tie a reward to completing my goal on my timeline to ensure it does not become a chore, I think.

The problem is there isn’t much I covet these days aside from perhaps my own weekly column in a newspaper or on a news site and an agent. Writers need agents I am told. I already have a trusted beta reader and I met a publisher at a workshop my writing group held last month who runs an agency on the side which helps writers shape manuscripts and find publishing outlets that fit their work. I am planning to contact her at some point in the new year. Coincidentally, I met a local author of children’s novels who also does editing and manuscript reading/polishing as a side business. I took her information. She might be my first contact.

The memoir itself has just left Idaho Falls and will detail Arkansas and our engagement this weekend. Then it will be about the emigration and wedding and then…I don’t know. I have been thinking about something I read in a book review of Abigail Carter’s The Alchemy of Loss. I am part of the TLC Blog Tour her memoir is on right now and my review will be up on December 10th. Another woman, also a widow, wrote her review this week and brought up a point I hadn’t consciously thought of though it is something I began to feel soon after Will died. What happens after the dust settles, but it still covers everything? After the one or two or three year mark? When grieving becomes something else entirely?

Like her, I found plenty of books to to tell me how I should act in the moment, but I was tired of the moment. I had lived there since Will’s illness began. It was time to move. No one however could, or was able, to show/tell me what came next or how to get there if they knew. And I know everyone’s road is different, but I didn’t, and still don’t, buy the idea that grief is a stumbling process over which you have no control at all. You most certainly do have control over your own actions and reactions regardless, and I am a firm believer in the “fake it ’til you make it” philosophy of life.

I don’t have any plans for changing the course of the memoir right now. It is easier to write chronologically – for the most part – but I think the story lies in my beyond. Beyond that first year and into Canada and a new life will likely be the ultimate focus. There will be a lot of editing and rewriting. This is the first major piece I have written where I didn’t edit as I went along. It’s a milestone for me as a writer regardless of what becomes of it.

My mother is doing okay. I talk to her just often enough to not make her feel as though I am hovering. It’s odd to be able to talk widow with her now. It’s strange to be the veteran too. She is attending grief groups and has joined the widow social group her friend Nan started. She’s lonely though and as she put it once,

“It’s not like your dad and I did anything together anymore but he was always around.”

She finds herself wanting to tell him things and thinking,

“Don would love this.”

I assured her about the normalcy of it, and that it would change over time but never completely go away.

Although living life does displace things. I spent some of last week trying to remember the date of Will’s death. The date completely slipped my mind and I refused to look it up because what kind of person forgets the date? It eventually came back to me, but it wouldn’t surprise me if – like his birthday last month – the day comes and goes before it occurs to me again.

Oh and two final things – well three – the review of Abigail Carter’s book is next Wednesday. On Monday, December 22nd, I will be hosting the giveaway of an autograhped copy of Joshua Henkin’s book Matrimony in advance of a review of the book in January. I am also going to be hosting another TLC Book Tour for Ingrid Cummings, author of A Vigorous Mind: Cross Train Your Brain to Break Through Mental, Emotional, and Professional Boundaries and an additional TLC tour of Breathing Out the Ghost by Kirk Curnutt.