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Softspoken by Lucius Shepard
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Softspoken

by Lucius Shepard

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One of the most astonishingly creepy books I've ever read -- a horrifying little ghost story that seemed like just another dreary tale of marital ennui, until....

Happy Halloween, Mr. Shepard. I'll be visiting your claustrophobic, hopeless, depressing, haunted vortex for many nights to come. ( )
  koeeoaddi | Mar 30, 2013 |
Avaland and I have been sick (colds), and I'm at home with little energy for anything. A good ghost story seemed just the thing.

Sanie Bullard is 29; she and her husband Jackson Bullard are staying at the large, decaying, antebellum Bullard mansion in rural South Carolina, where he grew up, and from which he later escaped. Her career ambitions are on hold, while he studies to be admitted to the bar. Their relationship has also decayed, with Jackson treating her more and more as a servant and sexual convenience. The house is also inhabited by Jackson's extremely eccentric brother and sister.

Sanie begins hearing a spectral, man's voice addressing her, wishing that she could see him. This is the start of her gradual entry into an unseen world existing within the manse. Contrasted with the house is the rest of the small town, whose inhabitants seem to promise her a life after, and without, Jackson - who is losing his ambition and becoming threatening as he begins to resemble his notoriously mad, late father.

This is a classic ghost story plot given the Shepard treatment. He writes a woman's point of view here better than I've seen him achieve before, although still not fully convincingly - men's POVs are still his forte. The novel is filled with his trademark, spectacular descriptive writing about visions of the fantastic.

I should note a trigger warning for anyone considering the book: the end is violent in ways that might not be expected for something called a ghost story. Many of Shepard's stories bring their protagonists to a place of escape, rest, or at least acceptance of whatever dark thing they met in the story. This isn't one of those.

This shouldn't be your first Shepard, but if you're already a fan, certainly worth a try. Three stars. ( )
  dukedom_enough | Nov 19, 2011 |
There's something about Lucius Shepard's stories that twists your arm behind your back and makes you forgive him (or at least say 'uncle' through clenched teeth) for the excessive humidity of his prose. It's Southern Gothic humidity this time around and I thoroughly enjoyed it. ( )
1 vote cdogzilla | Oct 27, 2007 |
There are different types of ghosts at work in this story, meaning that there are ghosts you can see and hear, and then there are the ghosts you can't lay to rest that lay within you personally. This book, on that level, reminded me somewhat of Stephen King's book The Shining, where isolation leads to a spiral into the dark side.

On the surface, Shepard's book is a ghost story, but it's mingled with a bit of drama on the domestic front. Jackson and Sanie Bullard are living in a small town in South Carolina, the old homestead of Jackson's family. Jackson has left his lucrative career to study for the bar exam, and feels that this can only be accomplished in the solitude of the old family home. In the house with them are Will, Jackson's brother (a peyote addict who sees visions) and Louise, the sister who isn't quite all there. Sanie is young, and had at one time aspired to be a writer; now all she feels is that Jackson's self-imposed isolation is killing her marriage and a part of herself as well.

So while there are ghosts at work here, the real story is not a supernatural one, but rather a very real look at forces beyond Sanie's control that compel her to try to save what little of herself that she can before the house and its ghosts go to work on her.

Very understated, Shepard's prose is so awesome that when he describes Sanie's first foray into the effects of peyote, you can totally feel it at work in yourself.

Beware: there are no answers here, and the ending is quite abrupt and mysterious, so if you need explanations you may not get them. I wouldn't recommend this to just anyone; mainstream readers probably wouldn't like it much. But if you want a wholly different reading experience, then give it a try. The writing alone is well worth the time you put into it. ( )
2 vote bcquinnsmom | Oct 14, 2007 |
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A chilling and mysterious voice becomes audible to Sanie shortly after she and her husband Jackson move into the decaying antebellum mansion that is the Bullard ancestral home in rural South Carolina. At first, she wonders if the voice might be a prank played by Jackson's peyote-popping brother Will or his equally off-kilter sister Louise. But soon Sanie discovers that the ghostly voice is merely a single piece in the decadent, baroque puzzle that comprises the Bullard family history rank with sensuality, violence, repression and madness.… (more)

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