Posted by: chartroose | January 27, 2009

Breathing Out the Ghost

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”
Lose Yourself

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.


  1. I was thinking a monk, but Eminem totally works, too.

    A most awesome review.

  2. A really good looking Eminem.

    It sounds fabulous, except for the ending. I like my novels to have justice since there’s so d*** little of it in real life.

  3. Eminem crossed with George Clooney, maybe…

    Interesting how everyone comments on the similarity rather than the review, tho’.

  4. I hadn’t noticed the resemblance at first, instead I was struck by how intense the author looks.

    Awesome review, this is going on my TBR list. The subject is one that is very interesting to me. As a parent I don’t think I could ever survive through something like this. And I’m actually intrigued more so, by the note about the ending.

  5. Terrific review…The ending did not upset me as much as it did you, but I think I am just used to “bad” endings in real life with search and rescue…so I didn’t expect resolution. I agree about a sequel, though – yes, please!

  6. This book is really getting a lot of great reviews…the end of your review made me laugh though.

  7. OK. I don’t even know what “spidering” is, but it’s creeping me out! Damn that imagination anyway…

    Sigh…another one for the wish list ;o).

  8. Did you know that Eminem won the Oscar for that song? (I bought that album. CD. They don’t say album anymore do they.) and I don’t see the resemblence except for the hoodie.

    I don’t think I want to read this book. maybe someday but I’m not rushing out to put it on the tbr. later. maybe.

    I just might have to re-read Anne of Green Gables after reading this review… But, no, I’m going to read about compelling ambivalence in war torn South Africa instead.

    GRAA = Great Review As Always.

  9. Bonus points for the Eminem lyrics.

    Was one of the expletives you breathed out at the conclusion “F&!k that shit, dude!”?

  10. Now I have this sick need to know what spidering is.. my 10 yr old recently informed me that we are never more than 6 feet away from a spider (a factoid she picked up on Discovery Channel) and that has had me creeped out for a week.

    Amazing review- thank you so much for participating. The subject matter is the stuff of my worst nightmares but I am fascinated and plan to read BOTG in February.

  11. You certainly give this novel glowing praise, but I’m still not reading it. I can’t stand to read about true crime or could-be-true crime … I know it happens and that’s all I want to know.

  12. This does not sound like a book I would normally enjoy, but your review has intrigued me.

    I’m not sure about the Eminem resemblance, but I did just put Lose Yourself on my ipod 🙂

  13. Thank you to all! Now for a few replies:

    Jack: You’re right about the Eminem/George Clooney combo. I think Kirk should bleach his hair and start wearing tailored suits so that he more closely resembles both of them.

    Wendy: It’s way cool that you’re a search and rescue person! I forgot about that. You must have some sad and fascinating stories to tell.

    Thanks, Kristi! I was terribly upset at the ending. I swear, if this were real and I had a gun…

    Care: No, I didn’t know that Eminem won the Oscar for that song. Wow! I’m with you about the reading. I think I’m going to have to read “Pollyanna” soon, just to lighten up a bit.

    Rebecca: Yes, I believe I did say “F*#k that shit.” I don’t think I said dude, though. If Curnutt had been standing in front of me, I would’ve said “DUDE!”

    Lisa: Gird your loins for this novel! Luckily, I’m not afraid of spiders. I’m afraid of clowns. I hate clowns.

    Heather: I find crime stuff to be strangely compelling (because I’m demented) so this was right up my alley. It’s not for everyone, though. Plus, you have adorable kiddo to think about. ‘Nuff said.

    Stacy: I’m going to have to put “Lose Yourself” on my ipod too!

  14. Loins= girded.

  15. This makes me think of The Bright Forever, by Lee Martin. Have you read that? Also set in the midwest, and appropriately so, and also featuring a child’s disappearance. That book was particularly well done and I’d be interested to see what you think of it compared with this one. I’m adding this one to my list – thanks!

  16. I’ve been wondering about this book, so I really appreciate the post. Very cool Blog too!

  17. verbivore–Thanks! I’ll try “The Bright Forever” soon, because it seems that I’m going through an unintentional child murder novel reading phase right now. My current read, “Tallgrass,” is about the murder of a young girl, among other things.

    Diane–I’m runing over to check out your blog right now!

  18. […] Wednesday, January 28th: Bloody Hell, it’s a Book Barrage! […]

  19. This is one I want to read even though I know it’s disturbing.

  20. I can’t read books like this, anymore, thanks to nightmares. But, your review is terrific!

  21. Great review! I loved this book!

    Linking your review with mine:

  22. […] Wednesday, January 28th: Bloody Hell, it’s a Book Barrage! […]

  23. […] Wednesday, January 28th: Bloody Hell, it’s a Book Barrage! […]

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