Visions of Paradise

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Perfect Circle

Sean Stewart’s novels tend to deal with ordinary people struggling to survive rather than dealing with the rich and powerful, but his latest novel Perfect Circle goes even one step further, being the biography of a total loser. Everything has gone wrong in the life of William “Dead” Kennedy, much of it due to his own inability to seize control of his life. Thirty-two years old, he has just been fired from his latest of low-level jobs, this time working as a clerk in Petco. He is divorced from his wife who lives with a former marine whose main difference from DK is that his life is firmly in control. DK has visitation rights with his twelve-year old daughter Megan every other Sunday, but it mostly consists of her counseling him, mainly with the advice, “Don’t screw up, Will.”

DK has one talent, which so far has been more of an emotional hindrance than a positive: he sees dead people. Yes, Perfect Circle is primarily a ghost story. He has seen them most of his life, and his entire largely-dysfunctional family is aware of it. Some people believe him, others think he has some loose screws upstairs–which he undoubtedly does, but not because he sees ghosts, but partly as a result of seeing the ghosts.

In an attempt to make ends meet, and at the advice of his closest friend, DK places an ad in the paper announcing he is some type of clairvoyant who will examine haunted houses to determine if they are indeed inhabited by ghosts. But his first assignment for a distant cousin turns out disastrous as DK ends up shot in the chest, and the house burns down, killing the cousin.

This is followed by a long scene in the hospital, which was gripping at first but went on so endlessly it became tedious after awhile. Once DK is released, his life takes a decided turn for the worst, involving the upcoming annual family-wide reunion, his relationship with his former wife, his daughter Megan and the ex-marine, as well as the vengeful ghost of his cousin seemingly bent on avenging itself on DK for his death in the fire. At times the novel verges on soap opera, but never passes over the line totally, and Stewart manages to hold it all together for a climax that totters quite precariously for awhile. Ultimately, DK grows emotionally and the storyline concludes satisfactorily as well, but Perfect Circle never rises to the level of his previous novels Mockingbird and Galveston. It is more of a small novel filling in the gaps between major works. I recommend it for Stewart fans, but if you have never read him before, you should try one of the other two novels first.