Going Through Ghosts
By Mary Sojourner
University of Nevada Press, 2009
Reviewer’s disclaimer: Nothing I write about Mary Sojourner’s work may be considered “objective.” Mary has been my teacher and friend, confidant and inspiration for over 15 years.
When a wannabe badass like Mary Sojourner writes a novel the underlying premise of which seems to be that if this man and this woman can be real together, can find their way together, the world is healed, then we are in even more trouble than I ever imagined. Or, we really can be healed – you decide – but not before reading this luminous, haunted and haunting story, the protagonists of which are time and place, ghosts, a dog and a bunch of “losers,” this romance that doesn’t romanticize anything. The muse of the socially invisible, where others see a waste land, Sojourner sees the infinitely mutating play of light and color, the mineral landscape carved by the normal absence and insistent presences of water, pared by wind and polished by time. She describes the teeming secret life of the Mohave Desert. Where others see human waste: the working poor, the old and aging, pubescent skaters, small time gamblers, small town cops, Indians, Vietnam vets, transsexuals, Sojourner shows webs of solidarity and kindness, feats of epic heroism, large and small gestures inviting redemption.
The novel’s epigraph,
Going through a ghost it gets cold.
You get scared, it picks up something like
A knife or sword, it tries to stab you –
But sometimes it tells you a story.
-Hopi children with Rolly Kent
Talk About the World: Spoken Poems, previews many of Sojourner’s themes and preoccupations: the redemptive power of going through one’s ghosts – and the novel is populated with actual and metaphorical, beneficent and malevolent, transitory and enduring ghosts – and facing one’s fears, the present sting of the unresolved past, the writer’s faith in the authority of story.
The novel’s main character, 55-year-old cocktail waitress Maggie Foltz, writes in the postscript of a letter to the woman cop she befriends after the gruesome murder of her friend Sarah, “I don’t think anybody, Indian or whatever, has a franchise on mystery.” Sojourner – who excoriates Indian wannabes and woo-woo aficiandos – demonstrates that the classic mystery surrounding that murder is less fundamentally mysterious than the processes which bring people together and hold them apart. She confirms that no one has a franchise on humanity and the tenderness it may inspire:
He looked down on the west end of Fremont. They’d caged what was the tiger heart of bad and beautiful. The Four Queens. Lady Luck. Golden Gate. Binion’s. He wondered if they still ran the World Series of Poker tournament there, then remembered Ray had said a guy named Jesus scored one point five mil with two nines. He thought about how even miracles were shaky in Vegas – like the jittering blue neon of the time-and-temperature clock ten stories below him; the relief on the slot players’ faces by the dubious light of their machines; the improbably cheerful old broad working her walker down the long haul from nickel Super Sevens to the $5.99 buffet line. She was there as he thought of her. He knew it. She was always there – fat, skinny, bottle blond, faded redhead, Mexican, Okie, Jap – and she hugged the machine before she dropped in her nickels…
He thought of the long-legged women who moved like angels through the tourists, how only a fiercely lonely sucker could see their wings.”
Redemption and healing have not come easy to Sojourner, known to remark that the trouble with Americans is that we just can’t accept the idea of any loss being final. This is a proposition she pretty well demonstrates the truth of in “Going Through Ghosts,” where she spins so much of what we are conditioned to think of as dross into purest gold.
University of Nevada Press provided Miss Thatcher with a reviewer copy of “Going through Ghosts.”