The Broken Swan’s Neck. David J. Kelly. 2013. Peloria Press.
Boy meets girl under nearly ideal circumstances. The catch in this Southern love tale is a remarkable haunting. What is remarkable is the strength and humanity of the main ghost, a grief stricken architect who is literally channeled by our architect protagonist. The ghost, teasingly revealed in ever more fully realized form, is human enough to be convincing in the fiction, and surprising enough to remain slightly spooky. This ghost story has some of the fine character analysis you would expect in a Henry James story, but also injects you into a strongly practical and contemporary world that captures your empathy. The close identification serves to make the truly convincing ghost story all the more powerful in raising your hackles. Before we meet the dead architect, we see his ill fated wife appear to the new owner of a historical Southern residence. Miller, who has purchased the house not least in order to come to terms with his own architectural vision, is joined effortlessly and smoothly by Alicia, whose appearance in his life is nearly as implausible as the ghosts that start appearing to both of them. Miller and Alicia use their shared visions to build a relationship, while solving the problem of the ghosts.
The history and motivations of the ghosts serve as a perfect foil both to the real life romance and to the crisis in vision Miller experiences with his work. The male ghost makes physical alterations in his drawings and forces him to be braver in his projections of style. The female ghost serves as the catalyst and eventually the emotional vortex that threatens the new relationship. Even a hard headed cynic who thinks the ghosts are in the characters’ heads will appreciate the wonderful weavings of risk and reward that face Miller and Alicia. In the disbeliever’s interpretation, Miller works out his creative angst with a Doppelganger architect whose taste in style reflects and surpasses his own. Alicia comes to terms with her classic Southern femininity by seeing it projected into the past doomed romance. The story falls pat, but what of the ghosts? The resolution is rich and nuanced.
The Broken Swan’s Neck presents a strongly believable contemporary setting. Southern cities are really just big towns, and the old neighborhoods are enclaves of that town atmosphere. This book puts you there, then melds old and new into a seamless story of both. The numerous accurate and dryly witty local references are a delicious treat for any old Raleighites still out there. The lasting impression of the book is the genuine plausibility of the slowly revealed ghostly presences, and Miller’s quiet conversion from doubter to believer. This reader found himself growing to the idea of ghosts as Miller does. Certainly they work very well in this story. And in this day and age of ghoulish media excess, these ghosts aren’t creepy at all – just sad. Maybe that’s the way they really are.