Southwest Book Reviews
Tue March 16, 2010
Going Through Ghosts
By Ann Cummins
Flagstaff, AZ – To read Mary Sojourner's Going Through Ghosts is to take a fascinating trip into the Land Between. For one character, brutally murdered in the opening pages, the land between is the land of Spirit, a murky terrain between Death and Home. Another character, a Vietnam Vet, travels Flashback Road, touring old battlefields in his mind. There's a kid caught between his divorced parents, and then there's Maggie, a cocktail waitress in a Nevada casino. Fifty-four years old, Maggie's been around. Divorced; estranged from her only child, Maggie's caught between loneliness and mistrust as she looks for courage to love again.
We meet these characters in Creosote, Nevada, a two-bit casino town. The locals stop in regularly to play a hand at the Crystal Casino and everybody loves the Fresh-Made Strawberry Cr me Waffles in the Blue Velvet Room. For the locals, a good story is worth as much as a lucky spin at the slot machines, and Mary Sojourner spins many good stories, humanizing even bit players with funny and compelling anecdotes. She also captures place with clean, muscled prose. Here's Vegas as one traveler sees it: "He thought how even the miracles were shaky in Vegas--the jittering blue neon of the time-and-temperature clock; the relief on the slot players' faces by the dubious light of their machines; the improbably cheerful old broad working her walker down the long haul from nickel Super Sevens to the $5.99 buffet line."
The central plot kicks off when a phantom serial killer strikes twice in Creosote. Maggie has good reason to get out of town; there are hints she'll be the third. She goes, but she's not terrified. She's already been killed a little bit by her new lover who has gone AWOL. For characters in this novel travel begins as escape, but once on the road, the journey becomes a quest for home and love.
In what's sure to be a delight for many readers, we are treated to a tour of the Mojave and the Colorado Plateau as perhaps only Mary Sojourner can map them, a map layered with details of what is and memories of what used to be. Sojourner, a long time Flagstaff resident, was a vocal activist against the development that eventually drove her away. One character feels the bruise of homesickness for a place lost "not because you cannot go back, but because the place is gone."
But wanderers in this book reclaim place through memory and story in places like Flagstaff, Winslow, Prescott, and Canyon de Chelly. Familiar landmarks like Winslow's Burger King; Prescott's Whiskey Row; Macy's Coffee Shop; Buffalo Park are illuminated by on sight visits and by historical memory.
A little warning about this book: There are many characters and we spin in and out of their stories as if they are pegs on a roulette wheel. The pace is dizzying, but go with it. You'll fall into a tale that's intelligent; passionate; full of heart.