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Book Review: Perfect Circle by Sean Stewart

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“Ghosts don’t do things to you. Ghosts make you do unspeakable things to yourself.”

I came across Sean Stewart after his striking work writing the Halo 2 ARG (Alternate Reality Game), ILovebees. Stewart’s latest offering shares little in common with the virtuoso science fiction setting he crafted for the world of Halo, but his main asset as a writer remains well intact: his stories focus on the human aspect of the events they depict, and they’re quite believable.

Enter William “Dead” Kennedy (DK for short), stage left. He’s seen ghosts his entire life, black and white specters that are easy to mistake for the living at night. Though I’m no English major, Stewart seems to draw heavily from magical realism, a genre in which magical elements appear in an otherwise realistic setting.

DK is one of those thirty-somethings who has slowed down so much life is starting to pass him by. He can’t even keep a job steady enough to pay his air conditioning bill, leaving him to roast in the Houston heat. (Regionalism permeates the novel with great lines like “East Texas has four great natural resources: heat, oil, mosquitoes, and cousins.”)

Though vengeful spirits abound, this is no mere campfire horror story. Poor DK realizes that to his ex-wife and the rest of the Kennedys he’s nothing more than a ghost everyone can see, and his subsequent struggle to reconcile with his daughter Megan is alternatively touching and heartbreaking. Neal Stephenson’s seemingly outlandish claim on the cover that Perfect Circle is “Stephen King meets Ibsen” might not be so far off after all…

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  • Gypsyman, I’ve read so much about this book being a beautiful contemporary urban fantasy, but I’ve been burned so often before by such reviews of similar books (most of which turned out readable but also forgettable) that I’ve held off actually ordering it. After reading your brief but telling review, I’m now going to go ahead and order it.

    BTW, the lead character’s name “William Kennedy” seems almost certainly to be a homage to the author of the same name, whose books I’ve read and loved–beautifully poetic, if immensely sad, novels about deadbeats and street people. One of them was made into an equally beautiful and sad film starring Meryl Streep and um, that very fine actor whose name I can’t seem to remember now! It’s the film that became famous for Streep lying on a block of ice for hours before canning the shot which shows her frozen to near-death from exposure.

    It seems unlikely that Stewart would name his protagonist William Kennedy accidentally, especially when this Kennedy clearly bears a striking resemblance to so many of author Kennedy’s own memorable characters, who are all ‘ghosts’ in a sense in their lives as well.