"I should be scared," she [Sarah] said. "I'm dead. I've never been dead before. And I'm not scared."
Mary Sojourner's new novel, Going Through Ghosts, is a storytelling triumph. This should come as no surprise from this seasoned author, who is also a popular writing workshop facilitator and former commentator for NPR. Published by University of Nevada Press, Going Through Ghosts is a novel about transformation, both in a physical and a spiritual sense.
It's hard not to fall in love with such expertly fleshed-out characters like Maggie Foltz, a veteran cocktail waitress earning her unrewarding living in the Mojave Desert in Southern Nevada, her new friend Sarah, a Native American who works at the same casino and Jesse, a disturbed three-tour Vietnam vet.
Though Going Through Ghosts is a novel about love and loss, Sojourner uses her talents to infuse the book with wicked insight, luxuriant descriptions of desert life, and humor.
When Maggie and Sarah first meet, Sarah, "looked at Maggie hard. Maggie remembered how these up-north Indians watched the white folks - the Lycraed half-naked Eurotrash, the graying dreadlocked wannabes wearing medicine bags."
Early on in Ghosts Sarah is mysteriously murdered. Without giving away too much of the plot, this sets in motion a chain of events that become extended metaphors on cultural stereotypes, the meaning of loyalty, and faith, in the seemingly small lives of three very large characters.
Sojourner shines best when she inhabits the spirit voice of Sarah. This device allows her to riff on nature in near stream-of-consciousness without dipping into self-indulgent writing pyrotechnics.
"Sarah was on her way. She flew in the snow, except each flake was a star. The sun drifted alongside her. The moon was gone and full and gone again. Traveling like that, you lost count of how many times the moon emerged and vanished. In a breath, you arrived."
When I was first handed this book I had reservations about my ability to resonate with both the setting and the characters. Typically I enjoy storytelling with a more urban and ironic sensibility, but I am glad I gave Going Through Ghosts a chance. The post-traumatic stress of a Vietnam vet, the ghost of a Native American woman, in the hands of a less competent author these characters could easily lapse into the realm of cliché. Mary Sojourner writes the truth of life, her truth. She crafts a poetic, meticulous realm which gives each character a chance to realize her own truth on her own terms. This is what great writing always hopes to inspire.
Going Through Ghosts
By Mary Sojourner, University of Nevada Press, $25, 281 pages.