A Certain Slant of Light
by Laura Whitcomb
Review by: Craig R. Stafford
"Someone was looking at me, a disturbing sensation if you're dead."
Helen has been dead for over a century, but she lives on, along with her love
of literature. Currently, she has attached herself to Mr. Brown, a teacher and
struggling writer (and one of the Quick, in the vernacular of the novel). One
day, Helen is unnerved to discover that one of his students can both see and
communicate with her. Torn between her familiar and her new mystery, she learns
that the young student also has been dead over eighty years, but has learned
that it is possible to possess a living body, empty of soul, with the ability
to live-and most importantly-to love again.
This is not a ghost story propelled by fear. These are gentle ghosts-supernatural,
but kind. They mean no harm, nor are they willing to cause harm. (Odd how these
ghosts are more compassionate than many of the living, a point the book clearly
illustrates.) The story is told at a consistently even, but never boring, pace.
It is totally compelling as the spirits of Helen and James experience the passions
of romantic love with one another-even if simply for a moment or two:
"All around us the shadows pulsed with the rhythm of his sounds, a whisper breath
with each thrust. My answers as soft as bird talk. The invisible depths above
shifted with hidden ropes and dark lights like the hushed sway of limbs in night
trees. As I pressed his lower back to me, my vision went white and a wave of
sweetness rushed everywhere, even into my scalp. I didn't know I had cried out
until I heard the echo. James covered my mouth with his, then broke off the
kiss when his body arched. He lifted me off the cloth with his arms around my
Of course, there are repercussions for their actions, both with those whose
bodies they possess as well as their own desires and wishes. Star-crossed? Helen's
love of Shakespeare's immortal play certainly indicates that possibility. But
what if you are light and, therefore, already immortal? You can die for love,
but can you have eternal love after death?
A Certain Slant of Light is a compelling read-and my number one choice
for my book group's October selection. This is a story that begs you to select
it from the shelf, hold it gently in your hands, and occasionally read passages
aloud (a favorite thing to do with a good book anyway), freeing the printed
words from the page to dance alive in the air. This is a fine novel. One that
I will carry around in my mind's eye, treasured, forever and always. I hope
you will also discover and delight in its delicate joys.