Sunday, December 09, 2007
Salerni, Dianne K. 2007. High Spirits.
High Spirits is long and intense. And dare I say it...it's not for everyone. But here's the thing...it's rich, it's detailed, it's intense, it's interesting. I found that it was a novel that I enjoyed reading a great deal. But I couldn't read more than a chapter at a time. Or maybe two chapters at a time. Perhaps it was because it's based on a true story. Perhaps because it was so strange. Perhaps because it turns so tragic. Perhaps because the narrator is so conficted, so unhappy for most of the novel. High Spirits is the story of two sisters. It's a story of many things, but that is the heart of it. Kate and Maggie. Maggie is the older sister. Kate is the more dominant at times. But this is Maggie's story. Maggie's conflict. This is the story of the Fox sisters. The two begin--unknowingly begin--something that will soon become larger-than-life. "Contacting" the spirit world. "Receiving" messages from the dead and departed. Showing "signs" of the spirit world. It all begins as a prank. They want to scare their cousin. They want to make her uncomfortable during her visit. But when their parents are fooled, when their neighbors are fooled, when their neighbors' neighbors are fooled, when journalists start coming to investigate...well, they find it too much fun to come clean. They enjoy the act. And they're terrified of what the truth would do to the family's reputation. Would the people run them out of town? Would they try to tar and feather them? Would the 'truth' cause a mob to set their home on fire? To shoot them? The truth is deemed too dangerous. But continuing the act has dangers all its own.
The book begins with the girls being young--somewhere between ten and thirteen. Their older sister, Leah, soon wises up to the girls' trickery. But, and it's a big BUT, she sees it as the PERFECT way to make money, to make a living. So the act continues. They change locations--they change locations a lot. And their act changes, improves, transitions through the years. But the truth is that this is a book all about deception, all about show.
Maggie's conscience bothers her. It bothers her a lot. She doesn't want to do this the rest of her life, not really, but she doesn't want to turn her back on her family AND she doesn't really know how to live without the act. Who is she without her sister? her family? She doesn't have an education. She's not rich. She's not from an upper class. Her family wouldn't even be middle class. Her act is her ticket to a better life, a classier life. Without the act, she's back to being a nobody, a nothing.
The last half of the book is about Maggie's love life. She's fallen for a man--a man with big dreams all his own--a man who has everything Maggie wants. A rich family. Popularity. Fame. A man who in some ways is very self-centered, very arrogant, with a potential to be a BIG jerk. Elisha Kent Kane. He wants her to leave her family, to agree to further her education, to agree to agree to one day being his wife. He's not really ready to commit to marrying her. She's not of his class, she's not "worthy" of him, she's not his family's style. But he wants her. He needs her.
The plot isn't simple. It gets complex and detailed at times. That's because it's based on a true story. Life is complicated. Life has many, many turns and twists. Life has unexplainable bits. It's not easily ordered, planned, and ruled.
Overall, I really enjoyed this one. I don't know if enjoyed is the right word. I was fascinated by the story. I wanted to keep reading. I enjoyed the reading experience. But as with most unhappily-ever-after books, it's not quite satisfying. It's more haunting than satisfying. If you want a happily-ever-after, you might be disappointed. If you're okay with your characters being miserable and staying miserable, then you won't mind the all-too-tragic ending.