Saturday, August 16, 2014

About My Solar Plexus Area

Despite the humorous titles of its chapters, I find that I cannot recommend the book with the paranormal jelly bags in it. What a letdown! I won't name it or its author because why hurt someone's feelings? But it's just a sloppy grab-bag, really - one minute the author is helping some people get a ghost out of their attic, next minute he's talking about a UFO case he has nothing to do with... there's just no point of view, and I don't believe his dialogue for a minute. ("There's no way in h..., ah, heaven that I would go up there when those crying noises begin.") It's all hooey. When I used to teach a scary story class, I think I made the observation that no kind of story benefits more from realism than a ghost story. I suppose that's doubly the case when the story is supposed to be "true." So let's move on to what seems to be a much better ghost book: A GALLERY OF GHOSTS by Andrew MacKenzie. It's the first one that Dr. Theresa held up in the shop for me to consider, and I am afraid I rudely and instantly dismissed it. I didn't like the generic title and I didn't like the cornball cover with the full yellow moon and the crooked black tree. Luckily, Dr. Theresa was persistent. Always respect Dr. Theresa's instincts! First of all, A GALLERY OF GHOSTS has an academic-sounding subtitle: AN ANTHOLOGY OF REPORTED EXPERIENCE. Classy! And I like the introduction, in which MacKenzie makes an interesting distinction: "Unlike the ghost stories of fiction, which have a beginning, a middle and an end and deal with dramatic happenings involving revenge or remorse... the true ghost story is fragmentary and often apparently meaningless." Well, now he is talking my language! I am sick of things with beginnings, middles and ends, truth be told. I do like a nice shiny fragment. I like that the book flap says with exquisite formality, "Mr. MacKenzie presents many hitherto unpublished supernatural stories from his own collection." I like that he drops allusions to weighty-sounding tomes such as "G.N.M. Tyrrell's masterly work SIX THEORIES ABOUT APPARITIONS." I like that the very first thing he does in the very first chapter is admit to his interviewee, "I have never seen a ghost, possibly because I am a poor visualizer." She - the Vice President of the Society for Psychical Research - has reportedly seen two ghosts (the modesty of the number, especially for one in her position, is something else I like). I like that she says, "I wasn't in the least frightened, but afterwards I did notice that I felt cold about my solar plexus area." And I like that MacKenzie responds drily, "That is most interesting." None of this flailing around and trying to be "colorful" like that other book with the flying jelly bags, which shall remain nameless, and which, as you may recall, had something sticky on the cover anyway. (The image above popped up for reasons unknown as a search result for a photo of Rosalind Hedley Heywood, the Vice President of the SPR at the time of MacKenzie's writing. I didn't find a photo of her but this one is all right too.)