“Book Review: Beautiful, Frightening, and Silent”
Reviewed by Tucker Lieberman
An unusual ghost story tying two grieving men across space and time
Jennifer Anne Gordon’s novel Beautiful, Frightening, and Silent is about two devastated men whose insistent ghosts rap at the portals of their minds. The men’s perspectives alternate in the novel, woven together until, at last, sense is made of why they know each other.
The story follows Adam, a 34-year-old recent widower fighting his personal demon of liquor, and Anthony, an 82-year-old whose haunting is more established. Anthony has always lived in his family’s Victorian house on a small island off the coast of Maine, and he has spent his life wrestling with his lover’s death sixty years earlier. Her ghost, soaked in seawater, is always with him in that house.
One day, Adam shows up and moves in with him. Adam is traumatized from a car crash that killed his young family, and he now uses a cane to walk. He is running away from his life in many way, from his grief, his new disability; and now he is living up close with the ghost of Anthony’s lover, too. The ghost has always had intense feelings toward Anthony, but now she begins to turn her attention to Adam.
The pathos of these characters is vivid and poetic. Adam, for instance, recognizes in a young woman that “at her age there could still be hope. For him there is nothing. He is a man made up of rope, metal, grief, a cane, and that same empty pain that has been in his stomach his whole life.” Anthony, meanwhile, is facing the end of his life, never having quite forgiven himself nor come to terms with his own narrative. He suffers at night and doesn’t quite understand it as suffering, as when, “from deep in the lower parts of his lungs, he feels the pull. It feels like 8 feet of rope coming out of him. It feels like one hundred long red hairs that have tied together as they begin to tangle on something inside him like a fishing line. Whatever it is, it tries to pull out the part of him that comes to life in the night.”
These two men’s lives have been defined by singular events and who are always internally working out the meaning of those events. They are sensitively and empathetically drawn. Neither man is a hero; their flaws have determined the course of their lives.
The story slows in the middle, but this may lend to the atmosphere of the haunting of the great grey house on the sea and the way in which the elaborate web of the men’s spirit connection is revealed to them.
This ghost story is told in the old Gothic tradition of isolation, gloom, melancholy, and suspense. Though set in the present day, nothing in the story’s bones depends on the characters’ use of modern technology. At bottom, the novel is about what happens when one bereaved person knocks on another bereaved stranger’s door and they take the time to sort out their ghosts together.
Category: Gothic Fiction
Paperback: 240 pages
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