The Ghost Clause, Howard Norman 2019

Simon Inescort was a minor novelist whose three books had not made much of a stir.  He had lived in an old farmhouse in East Calais, Vermont for many years with his wife, the artist Lorca Pell.  Lorca has sold the house after Simon died, suffering a heart attack on the ferry from Portland, ME to Nova Scotia, but Simon is  experiencing “ongoingness” i.e. he’s a ghost continuing to inhabit the hold house and his writing cabin occasionally triggering the motion detector in the library, dropping the Collected Works of Wallace Stevens, and even pruning the crabapples surrounding his grave.  More importantly, he is the first hand witness to the marriage of the new owners, Muriel and Zachary, a professor of Japanese poetry and a private investigator.  Along the way, we witness Zachary’s work to find Corrinne, a five year old child kidnapped from the neighboring village.  Through Simon’s observations and flashbacks we learn in detail about two marriages, one with partners in their 50’s and one in their early 30’s, their ups and downs, gives and takes.  Norman writes with great skill, fine tempo, and right phrasing.  The plots work and the characters feel real.  This may be partially due to the face that at least some of the characters are real.  Ed Koren, the long time cartoonist in The New Yorker, and his wife Curti,s  make an appearance and it’s unclear how many of the citizens of the East Calais in this book are real or fictional.  Norman goes so far as to have the Pell/Inescort farmhouse be located on Peck Hill Road which is, in fact, his own address in East Calais. The leading character in the book is my adopted state of Vermont . At one point, Norman who wrote a book about his life in Vermont entitled I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place writes, “In my life in Vermont, everything I love most happened most every day: village life, I mean, where familiarities become expectations.”  Couldn’t agree more.  This is a fine summer read that will entertain you as well as give you insight into relationships.  If you’re from the Upper Valley, you’ll enjoy it even more.

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