Hippo Manchester
July 28, 2005


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A nearly Perfect Circle

What is more haunting: Ghosts or a failed life?

By Robert Greene

Perfect Circle, by Sean Stewart, Small Beer Press, July 2004, 243 pages

Touted as a cross between Stephen King and playwright Henrik Ibsen, writer Sean Stewart is a rare find ó an author that keeps you in the dark.

Stewartís latest tale, Perfect Circle, is a ghost story of sorts. Protagonist DK ďDeadĒ Kennedy was born with the ability to see ghosts and, although this hasnít proved a major burden to him, it hasnít helped him out much either. But the same could be said for most of the other things in his life.

DK is a slacker, recently fired from a pet store job because he ate catfood in front of a customer to prove a point. Itís only the latest in a series of dead-end, low-skill jobs he has held since his wife left him for a Marine 12 years ago. His short marriage resulted in a child, a daughter, that DK gets to see about once a month. DK doesnít drive a car ó in the dark, he canít always tell the dead from the living, a fact that has resulted in a couple of accidents ó and his soon-to-be teenage daughter is losing her interest in the monthly trips, via bus, with her wastrel father.

Enter a distant cousin with a ghost problem. Heís haunted by the ghost of a girl that he claims he hit with his car in Europe. When DK sees the ghost, he realizes that his cousin actually raped, bound and then beat the girl to death. The cousin sees this understanding in DKís face and pulls a gun on him, planning to kill again to keep his secret. DK takes a bullet but sets his cousin on fire, burning him to death. And there is still three-quarters of the book to go.

DK is haunted, by the love he still has for his ex-wife, his failures as a father, by certain tracks on his favorite CDs and, eventually, by the ghost of his cousin, who vows to kill everyone DK loves. In some ways DK is dead, too, lacking any kind of ambition and passion for life. In one scene he attempts suicide, which fit so well in the context of the book and the character, that I half expected the book to end there. But the reason he opts not to go through with it also made perfect sense, and I was more than happy to continue reading.

Stewartís writing is occasionally beautiful; some of his descriptions of happenings, scenes and thoughts stay with you solely for the grace of the writing. DK is a wreck but you canít help but liking the guy. Heís the kind of character that you want to go drinking with, and spend the evening talking about life and music. DK also utilizes one of the best barfight strategies Iíve ever read.

Iím new to Stewartís writing and was happy to find out that he wrote seven novels prior to Perfect Circle. Now, while waiting for his next book, I can busy myself with his earlier efforts.