Filler content with firecracker

Another one from The Third Alternative #42:-


Weidenfeld & Nicolson hb, 227pp, £12.99              

The latest novel from World Fantasy Award winner Sean Stewart, addresses the question of what happens to the kid from Sixth Sense when he grows up, and the author’s conclusions are far from happy.

William Kennedy, a thirty two year old Texan, has some serious problems, such as the inability to hold down a job, a wife he still loves but who left him for another man whom he despises, a daughter who is starting to develop breasts and show signs of greater maturity than Kennedy himself can manage. To close friends and family he’s been known since childhood as ‘Dead’ Kennedy, his ability to see the dead accepted and largely ignored, rather like bedwetting in fact, something that’s not talked about and which he’s supposed to have grown out of. Its significance lies not with others but in the effect it has had on his own life, such as all of the above, and small, practical matters, like being unable to drive a car because of the things he sees all the time. Down on his luck Kennedy reluctantly agrees to use his ability for personal gain, helping out a long lost cousin who has a dead girl hanging about in the garage, but too late he realises that not all is as it appears, a discovery which places his own life in jeopardy. Kennedy has to take drastic steps to save himself, but the result is he ends up haunted by his own personal phantom hell-bent on revenge, attacking him through his family, the only people he cares about. Fortunately there are other family ghosts who come to his aid.

While central to the story you could make the case that ghosts are not what this book is all about, are just a little trimming to justify a fantasy categorisation. The centre of the story is Kennedy’s attempt to come to terms with his past, to learn to accept that his wife has moved on, to deal with his special ability in a positive way, to reach an understanding with his daughter Megan, to lay to rest the ghosts that haunt him, including that of AJ, the first girl he ever loved and who committed suicide. Stewart is a clever writer, skilfully merging past and present and showing how one informs the other, giving us a vision of the afterlife and the ways of the dead that is both fascinatingly macabre and depressingly mundane. His real gift though is for characterisation, with a larger than life supporting cast to flesh out the story and provide context for what’s happening to the book’s main protagonist. The worldly wise Megan is a particular treat, a precocious teen but gratifyingly free of the angst and cloying sentimentality that makes you want to throw up on meeting many of her filmic contemporaries. Kennedy and his concerns are given an appealing quality by the wonderful self mocking and wistfully sad tone of voice in which the story is told, so that while recognising him as one of life’s losers, and largely owing to the way in which he played the hand life dealt him, nonetheless you can’t help feeling for the guy and wanting everything to turn out okay for him, on which score kudos to Stewart for dodging the bullet of a happy ending and giving us something bittersweet instead.

Firecracker is both moving and funny, touching on the profound but with its feet set firmly on the ground, and I enjoyed it very much.

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