by Sean Stewart
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Just as Cole Sear sees dead people in the 1999 film “The Sixth Sense,” so, too, does Will Kennedy see dead people in Sean Stewart’s 2004 novel Perfect Circle. Kennedy’s ability is an open secret among his family, spread far more widely than he realized, so he is a bit surprised when cousin Tom Hanlon (his father married Kennedy’s aunt’s half-sister) calls him with a ghost problem.
Kennedy reluctantly gets involved with his cousin, which sets the events, one could hardly call it a plot, into motion. In fact, rather than a plot, Stewart focuses on Kennedy, his family, and his relationship with his ex-wife and daughter. As he has demonstrated in many previous novels, Stewart’s ability to set a scene and build a mood, is unrivaled.
Divorced from his high school sweetheart since before the birth of their daughter, Megan, Kennedy continues to have close ties with his daughter despite the wishes of her step-father. As Kennedy tries to turn his life around with the aid of his neighbor and the ghosts he can see (and a little publicity from another distant cousin who writes for a newspaper), he finds himself haunted by a ghost of his own making and his life spirals further out of his control.
On the one hand, Stewart portrays Kennedy as a out-and-out loser, thirty-odd years old and unable to hold down any sort of job, focusing his attention on where his next beer is coming from, and bemoaning his lack of success in life. However, Stewart provides Kennedy with intelligence and good intentions. His ties to his family, whether his parents or his estranged wife, are admirable, and it is clear that Kennedy views himself as a potential knight in shining army. Rather than being pathetic in a man with the track record he has, Stewart shows this optimism in a way which allows the reader to sympathize with Kennedy’s hopes.
Readers who are obsessive about having a plot and a goal in a novel will be disappointed with Perfect Circle, however readers who want to discover characters they can care about in settings which are as real as anything outside their front door will want to rush out and find a copy of Perfect Circle. Stewart has long demonstrated his ability to make his settings come alive. He mixes the grit and grime of the real world with the magic of a fantasy world to create a world which is inviting to the reader for all its roughness.
In the end, Kennedy is shown as having hope for his future even as all of his actions since Hanlon's phone call indicate that hope is misplaced. Although he grabbed at opportunities, he squandered many of them and failed in some areas which were exceedingly personal and important to him. Nevertheless, his own sense of optimism leaves the reader with the understanding that come what may, Kennedy will continue to see himself as a potential knight in shining armor and, in his own mind at least, come out on top.
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