The Locktender's House by Steven Sherrill

When she felt brave enough, strong
enough, she'd name the mountain too.
Having now read three novels by Steven Sherrill, I'm beginning to suspect that he hit his zenith with The Minotaur Takes A Cigarette Break and it's all been a gentle wavy curve downwards thereafter. I don't recall much about Visits from the Drowned Girl other than I was disappointed, and sadly, I feel the same way about this one. 

It's basically another ghost story, one wherein the protagonist is haunted by her past in a generally tactile fashion. However, maybe she dreams, maybe she's remembering, or maybe she's remembering dreaming, or vice versa, and so on. Janice Witherspoon wakes up with a migraine to receive a call telling her that her boyfriend, the other half of a relationship of convenience and inertia, has been killed during his tour in the Middle East, and so she goes on the run from her life, winding up in a lock-keeper's house in Pennsylvania, miles, she thinks, from civilisation, a place to which she feels deep down in her bones she has some kind of connection. Cue disorientating dream/memory sequences, crows, goats, tiny bone armchairs and sleepwalking. Then she finds her closest neighbour is a handsome, recluse, stone-carving, older, naked-yoga-performing professor who is immeasurably kind and supportive up to the point where he thinks she's gone crazy when a ghost tries to drown her in the bathtub and she subsequently tries to rape him. 

When put like that it sounds like an entertaining read. At the end of the day it is what it is, and from reading the blurb and judging the content from the form, it's no more than what I expected, but as I say, I was gently disappointed that it wasn't something new and exciting from this tired old genre. He takes regular pot-shots at the military, there's paragraphs about banjoes and dulcimers, of interest to someone who can't play either but pretends he can; there are some passages of marked beauty, some sentences that are worth re-reading, but at the close of play, it's all pretty formulaic and predictable, and frankly it takes chuffing ages to get to the point. Day follows crushingly repetitive day. Janice wanders too and fro telling us she'll leave and deciding to stay. And she spends far too many nights in the shed having rough sex with a dead nursemaid. Plus, everyone dies including a crow and a dog. I found myself huffing and sighing in discomfiting boredom throughout.

In conclusion, I'm not sorry I read it, but I am sorry I was disappointed, and to be honest, it might be third-novel syndrome. However I shan't be shying away from novel four, Joy, PA,  which anyone with access to my Amazon Wishlist (ignore the mass-market movies...) might like to purchase for me (just saying). Anyway, just how do you follow on from a character like M? Oh, that's right, by writing another one...

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