8 thoughts on “Pretty Marys All In A Row – Gwendolyn Kiste

  1. chapter one

    “But they’re better than I expected, the tune of their terror brimming with the elegance of Glenn Miller, the wink-and-nudge charm of Frank Sinatra, the indelible class of Bobby Darin.”

    I am excited by the well-written panache of this opening chapter, as we meet Rhee for short or Resurrection Mary for long (one of other such sisters?) who haunts passing cars and their passengers in the (if different) tradition of the protagonist in Michel Faber’s Under The Skin (my review here) and I am already becoming imbued with Rhee’s character, her seeming status as a ghost, her ‘home’, and those joyriders in this chapter she haunts perhaps inimically – and others she might haunt familiarly. Very promising. Not surprised as previous works of this author have impressed me.

  2. chapter two

    “Our bodies are skilled at make-believe, carrying out the sacraments of lives we lost long ago. It aches inside me how close we are to existing yet how agonizingly far away.”

    I am genuinely astonished and beguiled. This promises to become, if not already become, the only work of fiction that my disbelief is so suspended I actually believe in ghosts while being able to be spoken to by one of them in this narration. There are so many nice and original effects to give some delightful truth and, equally, some character differentiation between the ghost sisters and where they live and how they live and what they think and what trials and tribulations they face. Unrequited and rhapsodic.
    Meanwhile, isn’t Mary in the plural Maries?

  3. chapter three

    “Fortunately, the highway is generous tonight.”

    I feared I might have been over-praising this book yesterday, but this latest chapter proves to me the opposite. This is something really special. So far. Like all lives, books can also attenuate while still in the hands of the reader on each tomorrow’s opened screen of text. I love this Rhee, who is a ghost of herself and how she is shown herself in a book when she was still alive, a ghost story for a ghost. Her relationship with David, he being one of us, but also someone who has actually met her, picking her up as the hitchhiker that some say she is, as well as being a ghost. I love that mirror in which some ghosts live. I love the other ghosts with whom she lives. I love the limpid style. I love her love of Glenn Miller, but do not necessarily share her disappointment when she gets in someone’s car playing Bob Dylan. A highway revisited?

    “How strange that the most permanent part of most people’s lives are the monikers they leave behind in stone after it’s too late to matter.”

    [cf “People are expected to leave monuments to their tragedies, even though that makes them harder to forget.” – from a book I am simultaneously reviewing here.]

    Each ‘a dead monument to once ancient hope.’

  4. chapter four

    “I still haven’t confessed to anyone about what I’ve seen and heard in the shadows. I nearly laugh aloud to myself. And what will I say? I don’t even know what the voice is.”

    There is a fey quality here. A feyness itself fading. An aching attenuation. But if fey fades, does it become less fey, paradoxically less fading? Meanwhile, a four year old girl sees “four pretty ghosts”, a girl seeking scares with her Daddy who happens to be David. And meanwhile again, Rhee and Red have seemingly connected in the mirror where normally Red resides alone. But overall there is a yearning lack of connection… or a near connection like, I guess, the fingers of Goddess and Ghost stretched out to each other but not yet touching? A tantalisation of these Marys (Red, Rhee, Lew, Mack…) here amid shadows that almost flow for me like syrup. Unyielding and yielding by turns.

    “You know we can’t reach each other. That’s against the rules.”

  5. chapters five & six

    “The darkness can come, but he won’t stop us. My sisters won’t fade. We’ll be together, and we’ll become stronger than we’ve ever been. We’ll get out of here. Not even darkness can keep us.”

    Lew, Des Moines… and more that makes me think I am in this book already. Am I the man’s voice in the darkness? I certainly hope not. These Marys don’t deserve me, if so. They should resist my hawling them into this review, my dreamcatching them…

    “But if I can pull my sisters toward me, maybe I can haul others with us.”

    Meanwhile, I follow Rhee’s attempts to steady their fading, by bringing others who are like David, including David, to a party at the Marys’ house. Their pet people from our living world, but has their fading now started making these people fade, too? The text is full of yielding and unyielding, evocative of blood and horror and eventual slippages of two of the Marys… they say they have never been so powerful, never so vulnerable. Even one of their coffins seems fluid.

  6. chapter seven

    “Once upon a time, the darkness stole my life from me. Now it’s stealing my hereafter too.”

    Death of her hereafter, but it not deciding where it dies, Rhee decides…
    But if I tell you what happens or what she decides to do, I shall likely become my own spoiler. And the following quote from this chapter, I surmise, may give you at least what in hindsight was a premature hint?

    “They brim with rage the color of late autumn when all the trees have blistered to orange ruins and blackened bark. A fury that wanes more with every passing moment because the darkness pulls her farther from us.

    “And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.” John Donne
    “And death shall have no dominion.” Dylan Thomas
    “And with strange aeons even death may die.” HP Lovecraft

  7. chapters eight, nine & ten

    “We float through the here and there, our bodies suspended in nothing.”

    “I have to pick between two impossible existences: either he devours me tonight, the same as he devoured the others, or he spends an eternity devouring me in another way.”

    I am not sure I can fully devour the gestalt of this uniquely fey book, by telling you what happens at the end. You will not forget, though, the ballroom and the dancing to Glenn Miller. The rows of Marys. A seeming maze of rows. Row as in rank not squabble. The tension between being and not being, between wanting to scare and wanting to comfort. Rhee loves to scare, perhaps to scare me more than I can scare her by her pretending that I exist simply to make her stop existing. That’s what reading fiction means. Two way and synergistic between the book and its reader. The power to believe that you are inside the fiction, whatever necessary role (good or bad) you are given by that book to play in it. To stop myself fading, even at my age. At my age, when mirrors are no help.
    A ghost story for a ghost. Where exorcism is its opposite.


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