Thursday, January 18, 2007

"The Ghost Orchid" by Carol Goodman

I've read all but one of Ms. Goodman's books now, and this was my favorite by far. A bit different for her, but definitely worth picking up!

"The Ghost Orchid" tells two stories, really. Ellis Brooks is a would-be-novelist who attends Bosco, a famous artists' colony in upstate New York. She is writing a fictional account of the founder of Bosco, Aurora Latham, and events that occured during a fateful summer in 1893. However, the other story is not of Aurora so much as it is that of the medium brought to Bosco that summer to contact Aurora's dead children. Corinth Blackwell's tale is just interesting and compelling as Ellis's, if not maybe more so.

The tales are told simultaneously, with each tale taking a chapter. Ellis begins by introducing her fellow artists-in-residence. There are two prospective romantic interests, landscape architect David Fox and fellow novelist Nat Loomis. Bethesda Graham is also a writer, albeit of biographies, and she is cast as Ellis's rival, both personally (for the men) and professionally (since both women are writing about the same person, even if in different genres). Finally, there's a poet in the house, Zalman Bronsky, who just sort of rounds out this eclectic cast of characters.

In chapter 2, Corinth's tale beings, again set primarialy during that summer of 1893. Quite a bit of Corinth's history revolves around her heritage - she is part Native American. Aurora's husband, Milo Latham, plays into that history quite nicely, as well as another guest that summer, Thomas Quinn, a former magician.

It's hard to explain exactly what the book is about. While set in the present, it appears to be about the ghosts of the dead children, and possibly even their parents. There are elements of the supernatural, most particularly at the end of the book. And while they felt a bit like a way to "explain" everything that was happening, they also seemed quite plausible given the history that you learn while reading the "historical" chapters of the book. Again, while I liked Ellis and her fellow artists, I was more interested in Corinth's story and couldn't wait to get to those chapters. In the end, all the information given in Corinth's storyline ties into the current characters. Again, it seems a little convenient in a way, but could be very possible, too.

The odd thing about this book was Ms. Goodman's use of the supernatural. In her previous works that I've read, there seem to be things happening that could be explained in that manner, but you come to find out that there's usually a suspect who has ties to the present and the past both, someone who is manipulating the heroine of the story. I'm not sure which plot device I prefer, but it seems that she's adept at using either.

In summary, if you want an interesting read with a mystery to book, pick up "The Ghost Orchid" at your local library or bookstore!

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