Review: Perfect Circle

Sean Stewart’s Perfect Circle is one of the best ghost stories I’ve read in a long time.  It’s another one of those books recommended by Jo Walton that doesn’t fit into a particular genre.  If you come at it expecting a fantasy novel set in contemporary Houston, you won’t be disappointed.  If you come looking for a character study of a young man becoming an old man among the working poor of Texas oil towns, you won’t be disappointed there either.

What is unambiguous is that William Kennedy is a haunted man.  He sees ghosts throughout the city and his life.  That’s about where the definitiveness on ghosts ends, though.  Perfect Circle is perfectly consistent whether you decide Kennedy can can see the dead or hallucinates and has an active subconscious.  But whether supernatural or chemical, the past keeps reaching out and twisting Kennedy’s life.

Stewart describes the haunting brilliantly.  Sometimes a ghost will intrude and wrench the story in new places.  Sometimes a casual observation will pull a haunted flashback out of Kennedy’s memory. And always, always, the haunted moments are real moments: a relative killed by their own foolishness, or by corporate greed, or by the failings of someone who loved them. We all get to see death and misery, and Stewart makes it explicit without robbing it of universality or power.

That probably sounds like a pretty oppressive book, but Stewart doesn’t just beat the reader down.  His protagonist is full of faults, but is a genial person to spend time with.  He’s got that whistling-past-the-graveyard sense of humor that so many outcasts adopt. It also helps that his good heart is evident early on as well.  Stewart shows us Kennedy at a dramatic time, but it’s easy to see why Kennedy has friends.

Perfect Circle is a ripping, spooky yarn with an interesting protagonist and excellent writing.

Strongly recommended.

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