Off the Shelf

“Essence”

By Marcus Pan

EssenceI always enjoy getting books in the mail for review and this was no exception. Sent to me by High Country Publishers, Essence is a ghost story written by Glenn Woods, but takes the form more of a gothic drama rather than a horror novel. Well told and brilliantly executed, Glenn Woods writes from the perspective of a writer haunted by a ghostly little girl eager to tell the story of the century and a half she’s spent trapped haunting the house where she tragically died.

First a bit about High Country Publishers – a small publishing crew based in North Carolina, HCP put out fiction that is described as “from the North Carolina High Country.” They publish only fiction, it is extremely varied from mysteries to modern thrillers, romance to historical plots. Their books are done quite well, very well made, and though small High Country still retains a strong sense of professionalism while maintaining an indie/DIY look and feel…so much so I have more than once, while reading Essence, considered shopping them Decade of Dark though I haven’t considering they don’t seem to do dark horror, unfortunately. Printed in a trade paperback size on high quality paper between soft but sturdy stock paper covers, High Country Publishers might be somewhere that other folks might want to peek at if they’re shopping their own manuscripts.

I admit I have taken a bit too long to write this review, since I’ve been dead-on busy at the dayjob. Not only have I finished Essence, enjoying it immensely as I went, I also finished reading an old pulp-fantasy by good ‘ol Piers(1) that I’ll be writing up following this. But when I received in the post yesterday another book from High Country Publishers(2) I thought to myself, how cool – but damn I better write up the last one they sent me or they’re going to spank me with a wet noodle.

Little Luzette, a young girl who meets her tragic end in a stray bullet from a Civil War soldier in Savannah, bloodily crawls her way to hide into the basement of an open home in her town without realizing she’s actually been shot. There in the cold damp of the cellar she passes on. The book tells the story of her time until our current year during which she spent stuck in this strange family’s home. She must learn what it is to be a ghost…overcome the fear, loneliness and try and find ways to tell people through the years that she’s there in hopes her body would be discovered, properly buried and release her from the grips of her Purgatory.

When I first began, originally I was struggling with the excellent writing, high-brow vocabularly and superb dictation of what was supposed to have been a “little girl.” Being a bit of a character developer myself in my own stories, my first impression wasn’t well worn. Little girl’s don’t speak like Luzette. But then it hit me – like a ton of bricks along with a big “stupid” sign on top – that Wood’s ghost was as perfect as could be. After all, though a child when she died, she has spent the next 150+ years by herself, watching the rest of the people that moved in and out of her haunted house, learning, struggling and thinking all along about her situation…and trying to contact people to help herself out of it. Of course she’s going to speak intelligently and unlike any child and many adults I’ve known – she’s lived and learned for much longer!

This revelation hit me around the time I met some of the other characters in Glenn’s books, who’s diction, drawl and slang were so ultimately done that you can hear them speak. The voodoo woman with her bag of bones sounds like any Civil War era black voodoo woman should. Housekeeper Miss Clara and the other folks of Savannah’s yonder days are so well created they make the folks of Gone With the Wind look like anachronistic cardboard cut outs. Great work Mr. Woods.

Through Essence you’ll be whisked through different times and cultural climates. From the early days as the Civil War breaks out and the slavery culture of Savannah to the rise and fall of a jazz band…the technological discoveries of phones, radios, televisions – all new and appearing to the wondering filament eyes of a little girl who lived in the days of sailboats and cotton gins. You’ll feel Luzette’s frustrations as she attempts different methods, many trying to utilize the new technologies brought into her home as she learns about them, of trying to reach the people living there in hopes of having her corpse discovered only to finally succeed…and learn that it’s not always a “proper burial” that releases a ghost from her mire.

It’s really a touching story – ghost story or not. Very dramatic…well researched by the author as he took us through a century and a half of our own American history better than any textbook could have. Little Luzette can probably teach most of us more than all the wise men still in physical form as terms like “out of the mouths of babes” takes on new meanings when the babes have lived five times as long as I have. I used to think being a haunt might be fun…and surely some aspects might be. But I’m not willing to commit to that much after I’ve frustrated along with a little girl as she struggled away the hours, hiding from the sunlight, avoiding the shadows and trying to speak in a southern American home since the day that Georgia seceded from the Union…and a child’s innocent soul seceded from her body.

(1) Piers Anthony, of course, who else?
(2) Donald A. Berman, M.D., with Mount Doomsday.
“Essence: This Child Ghost Wants to Tell You Her Story” by Glenn Woods
Copyright © 2004 by Glenn Woods
Published by High Country Publishers, Ltd.
First Printing April, 2005
ISBN: 1-932158-58-8
Contact Information:
High Country Publishers, Ltd.
Post: 197 New Market Center, #135, Boone, NC, 28607, USA
Phone: (828) 964-0590
Fax: (828) 262-1973
E-Mail: editor@highcountrypublishers.com
Web: www.highcountrypublishers.com

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