2007, Kirk Curnutt, 329 p.
Doesn’t he kind of look like Eminem in this picture?
“You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime, yo”
Years ago, when I was married and living in Maryland, a three year old girl disappeared from her fenced backyard one warm spring afternoon. The home where the disappearance took place was a few miles away from mine. It was not a divorce/kidnapping thing, since the parents were still married at the time. There was no evidence of foul play, either, and, as so often happens with these types of cases, there was no trail for the police to follow. The little girl was never found. It was like she never existed except in her family’s memories.
I absolutely cannot fathom what it must be like to be the parent of a missing or mudered child, but I certainly can’t think of anything worse. The aftermath of such an event must be horrific–like a living nightmare. How do you go on after something like this? What’s the point? Parents of missing or murdered children must experience existential crises practically every day for the rest of their lives. The disconnect they feel must weigh them down to such an extent that they often find it hard to get out of bed in the morning. I wonder how long it takes before they feel like real people again. Do they ever feel real again?
This is what Breathing Out the Ghost is about. The novel has three main characters (if you don’t count Dickie, the disgusting pedophile guy, and I REFUSE to count him). All three characters have been brutally damaged by a child’s disappearance and/or murder, and all three of them will never totally recover from it. Sis is the mother of a young girl who was raped and murdered; Colin is freaking out on speed and driving cross-country to try to locate his missing son; and Robert Heim is a disgraced private investigator who is obsessed with Colin’s case. These characters are so wonderfully fleshed-out that I could relate to all of them at different times in the novel. I was most fascinated with Heim, because he didn’t really need to be there, but he did need to be there. He was both compelled and repelled, like any good protagonist in any good novel should be. Mr. Curnutt did an excellent job with his characters. I know this because I began casting the novel in my head while I was reading. I would play Sis in the movie, although I’d rather be Heim. Why do I always have to be such a girl?
I’m glad that Breathing Out the Ghost was set in the midwest, because there’s a kind of starkness and majesty about that part of the country that fits the novel very well. The book itself is both stark and majestic, like the people of the midwest and the land they inhabit.
The subject matter of Breathing Out the Ghost is disturbing, but crimes against children (and adults) happen more often than we’d like to think about. I once heard that practically every one of us has been investigated and contemplated by some kind of horrible person at some time during our lives. Perhaps our children have had a pedophile or two look them over or even touch them. Perhaps you or I have been the subject of a serial killer’s scrutiny. Maybe we’ve just avoided being raped because the time or the place wasn’t right or we had a dog barking in the house. Don’t think it can’t happen to you or yours because it can, and it sometimes does.
Now on to the novel’s conclusion: even though it was appropriate and unforgettable, I AM NOT HAPPY WITH IT. Mr Curnutt, you absolutely must write a sequel to this novel in which a certain individual gets his comeuppance. You must! I was hoping to be “breathing out a sigh of relief” at the end of this novel, but I was “breathing out a stream of expletives” instead. Please amend this injustice just as soon as you can! (And why did you have to mention “spidering?” Man, that gave me the creeps)!
Most highly recommended.