The Ghost Writer

So, I finished Harwood’s The Ghost Writer and I feel perplexed. Not about the book, which I really enjoyed, but about all of the reviews, that frame the book as a mystery with an ending you can’t reveal without ruining the book. So, I wanted to talk about the end of the book, because I have questions, but I don’t know if it would be giving away a “twist” that doesn’t seem much like a twist at all.

I mean, shoot, if you call a book The Ghost Writer, there are only so many things the title can mean, right? Someone is going to be a ghost. Someone is going to be a writer. Someone may be both of those things. That isn’t surprising, is it? Is that really a spoiler?

But the question I have is this–in the end, was there actually a ghost?

Anyway, I thought it was a really beautifully written book. But it’s definitely one I’d recommend reading with someone, so that you have someone to discuss the ending with.

Edited to add discussion with spoilers:

Okay, the more I think about it, the more I am unclear. So, Anne was never dead? She actually did just sit in the house and stew for all those years. Okay, so, if they were in dire financial straits and had to sell all the artwork fifty years ago and she never had a job other than being a murderous crazy person writing erotic letters to her nephew, how did she not lose the house?

Speaking of writing erotic letters to her nephew, I thought this was a weird plot point, too. Clearly, by the end of the book, we’re supposed to understand that this is her revenge–he’s spent fifty years being in love with a woman who doesn’t exist instead of finding someone of his own to love. But at the beginning of the book his mom is–turns out understandably–a freak who hides from the world in her house and encourages, no, forces him to do the same. But the letters from Alice actually encourage him to have a life and to find ways of working around his mother.

Yes, it turns out to be creepy and gross, but he travels–which he wouldn’t have done–and goes to school and gets a job. I’m just saying, I’m not convinced that, had the aunt not interfered, he was on a path to a less sad life. Which is not to say that her interfering isn’t gross and manipulative. It is. But I just feel like the end of the book assumes that he was on a path that would have led to happiness, except for being encouraged to hold onto Alice instead. But that’s not something that the beginning of the book shows us.

He would have been deeply fucked up even without his aunt’s literary incest.

And then, are we meant to understand that Phyllis really did try to radiation poison Anne? Or is it clear, but just not to me, that Anne was trying to radiation poison them both to death, but failed?

And are we meant to understand that Anne was always kind of paranoid and peculiar and that’s what drove Hugh to take up with Phyllis? Part of the problem of the point of view we have is that there’s no moment when we see Phyllis act in any way that would make her attractive, except for the photo of her with the baby. All we have are Gerald’s impressions of her growing up–when she’s clearly a wreck–and her sister’s–who hated her.

So, why would Hugh cheat on Anne with Phyllis in the first place? I don’t need it spelled out explicitly, since the points of view we have in the book are obviously going to be unsympathetic to her, but I could use a few more facts that, when looked at slant, would bring me to say “Oh, in spite of what Gerald says, she was amazingly beautiful.” or “In spite of what Anne says, she used to be delightful.”

But this is a good enough book that I’m not sure if those things are missing or if I just failed, as a reader, to pick up on them.

Like I said, it’s definitely one you want to read with someone and get their take.

Things to Read

Newscoma has a heartbreaking post on the upcoming loss of 1,900 jobs in west Tennessee. It would be hard to overstate how devastating this is going to be on our state. People will have to move for work. And yet, where is there to move? And then what happens to the businesses who sell to those 1,900 people?

McSweeney’s makes the case that we are living in a time of unprecedented book-y goodness. I choose to believe, because why the hell not? Disbelieving has been so unpleasant.

Yeah, what she said.

–Just in time! Examples of good sex writing.

Salt on Top or Salt Below?

The Butcher drove me into work this morning. It was pretty nightmarish in spots. But we got to talking about how often the city has salted the roads before it snows. And I wonder if that’s really the most effective way to do it. Salt works by lowering the temperature at which water freezes. So, you bring ice and salt together and, as long as the air temperature is higher than the newly established freezing point, the ice will melt back into water.

But here’s the thing I wonder. So, you put down some salt, it snows and forms a layer of ice. Now, clearly, the ice at the surface of the road melts because it’s in contact with the salt, but does the ice that’s above road level necessarily then come down onto the road to melt (unless pushed by tires)? Isn’t it better to apply salt to the top of ice and snow so that, as it melts, the salt moves down into fresh ice and snow?

I was going to do an experiment, where I put an ice cube on top of some salt and some salt on top of an ice cube, and see which melted the ice faster, but I couldn’t find any salt in the office. I did find some stale Ritz crackers, but I wasn’t sure they had enough salt on them to work, and I wasn’t sure how I’d explain the soggy mess on my desk once the experiment was over.

But, Science, I did think about doing an experiment and testing my hypothesis! So, that kind of counts, I think.

Mrs. W. Says No

I had to try to go for a walk this morning, even if it was just to the big tree in the AT&T yard. So, we got up and we went out and it was marvelous and quiet. The whole back yard was untouched by anything but the smallest squirrel prints. But we didn’t even get out into the yard before the dog was clearly uncomfortable, trying to lift and keep all her paws off the ground at the same time.

I felt stupid for not realizing that her paws would not be able to carry her enthusiasm. She seemed embarrassed for needing to give up.

So, we turned around and came home and had breakfast instead.