The Year of Past Things
M.A. Harper
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The Year of Past Things

M.A. Harper
Harcourt
Hardcover
368 pages
January 2005
rated 3 of 5 possible stars
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M.A. Harper cut her teeth on ghost stories, fragments of frightening tales from cocktail parties that settled into her imagination through the years. Now the author's own tale is born, set in New Orleans - the perfect venue for a modern-day ghost story, with its vivid history of saints, celebrations, voodoo and superstition.

When an apparently normal family is suddenly beset with strange sightings of a man who was tragically killed in an accident, they are at a loss. Cajun musician A.P. Savoie's fame has reached cult status, casting a giant shadow over his wife and two children. Savoie's widow, Michelle, finds comfort in marriage to the solid Phil Randazzo, the chef/owner of a trendy New Orleans restaurant, hoping her children will find the security that they so badly need. But this impulsive adventure is mined with booby traps for Randazzo, most notably a teen-aged son and his contemplative, artistic younger sister.

If only the dead would stay dead. Apparently A.P. Savoie has no intention of remaining beyond the pale and appears to Phil regularly, with a message the new husband cannot fathom, lacking the necessary skills for communicating with spirits. Are these apparitions a warning or a menace? The frequency of the sightings accelerates, causing unexpected friction between the couple, Michelle trying to protect her children and Phil determined to uncover the Savoie's intentions. Michelle is caught in reveries of her past with the musician, distancing herself from Phil in her confusion. For his part, the young husband is questioning his own judgment in marrying so quickly.

As each family member narrowly escapes a series of violent episodes, it is unclear whether the events are natural or something more sinister, forcing the family members to share personal experiences, secret thoughts and buried fears in an effort to unravel Savoie's cryptic message from the other side. Communicating from beyond the grave, Savoie is either threatening his wife's happiness or trying to warn of imminent danger.

If Phil and Michelle can put aside their own feelings to protect the children, the Randazzo's may yet save themselves from further catastrophe. Indeed, the spirit world exists on another realm not accessible to a frightened couple abandoned by belief and wary of superstition. Sensing that time is short, Phil and Michelle turn to spiritualists, prayer, priests and exorcism.

This modern-day ghost story is as much a tale of acceptance and adjustment as it is an adventure into the unknown. New Orleans coexists with reality and superstition, the shadows of the dead never far away, either in loving memory or with malevolent intent. The Randazzo's fight the demons of the past to secure the present, reserving a place for a beloved, if flawed, father in the hearts of his children.



Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Luan Gaines, 2005

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