Story Rating: 2.5 stars
Audio Rating: 3.5 stars
Narrator: Colin Darcy
Length: 10 hours, 29 minutes
When he was eight years old, Scott’s brother allowed him to tag along as he and his friends headed to the quarry on a hot summer’s day. Then for 27 minutes, Scott was dead. It was an accident, but it changed everything. Scott began to see things other people couldn’t, people who weren’t there. Ghosts, in short. Some were friendly, like the boy he played Lego with. Some, like the man who attacked him at school, leaving a bloody gash across his chest, were not. Scott’s father left, his mother drank, and Scott turned to drugs and drink to try to drown out the voices. It didn’t work.
Tim, Scott’s best friend since forever, tried to help. He’d fight back against the bullies, he’d try to get Scott to eat, he’d stand up for him when Scott could no longer stand for himself. Even as he was trying to push away the pain and insanity of seeing dead people, Scott knew he was destroying everyone who loved him. Through high school and beyond, his mother sank deeper and deeper into alcoholism, his brother finally gave up and left to go live with his girlfriend, and Tim took off one year from school, then another, destroying his own future in an effort to save Scott’s present.
So, Scott left. He left the city of ghosts and the people he was hurting, and found a new life for himself, one that came with a new name and a new identity. One that was free of ghosts. For some reason, there were no spirits following him once he left town, and as the years went on, Scott found himself almost happy again. Until Tim’s mother appeared, or rather, the ghost of Tim’s mother. Giving the very last of herself for the boy she looked at as a second son, she begged Scott to return home, to return to Tim. Now Scott is headed home to face the people he left behind, haunted by the ghosts of his actions, even as the spirits of the dead begin to reach for Scott, once more.
The world building in this story is interesting and a great deal of thought seemed put into the ‘powers’ Scott was cursed with and the history of his gift. Even the ghosts and the mystery of the child strangler are worth a nod, but the relationship between Tim and Scott felt abusive with some textbook emotional manipulation that I found unpleasant. The undertones — and overtones — of Tim’s treatment of Scott soured me on this book.
Scott was 8 when he ‘died’ and, as most children are, was mostly interested in what was happening to him. Seeing the following years through the eyes of a child, and then a young man who doesn’t always understand what’s going on around him, is interesting and his self-absorption and self-recrimination as he tries to deal with his growing madness while his family falls apart, something he very much blames himself for, is poignant and well-written. Scott the adult, though, feels more shallow because we don’t always get his emotional response to a situation. Instead, he’s an observer, reporting the events as they happen with an intellectual effort to put them into context.
Tim is creepy. Scott’s leaving broke his heart, but for those five long years he dreamed of Scott, of holding him in his arms, of loving him. He became friends with Scott’s mother and brother, and is the godfather of Scott’s brother’s children, putting $5000 annually into a college fund for them. He knows he and Scott are meant to be together, even if he doesn’t know for certain Scott is coming back. He won’t leave the small town they grew up in because it’s where Scott’s family is, his last tie to Scott.
When Scott comes back, Tim is quick to welcome him, even as he tells him he’s angry at him. He says he believes Scott when he tells Tim about the ghosts, though later it comes out that he didn’t actually believe, it’s just that he’d say anything to make Scott stay with him. It’s his last chance to get what he wants, which is Scott. Tim initiates sex, using it as a power play between the two of them. He outright tells Scott to shut up and take it, because Tim is so filled with anger and hate that Scott abandoned him that he wants to beat the ever living crap out of him. After all, Scott was supposed to be his first, last, and always. And it just goes on and on, getting worse and worse. In Tim’s own words:
“Don’t bother to deny [how many men have fucked you], because I won’t believe you. Just shut up and let me do what I have to.”
“It’s like I always thought: you were meant for me. But we still have that problem of you letting someone else take what should have been ours to share. I need to show you why that was a mistake.”
“He’s skittish, but I’ll break him.”
“I don’t want you to go back to Chicago, I want you to stay with me. Or, if you really have to leave, I’m hoping you’ll let me come with you.”
“I will never be satisfied until we’re together.”
Again and again, Tim reduces Scott to a thing, and Scott’s body becomes something for him to possess. When Scott has an episode that sends him to the hospital, Tim tells Scott that while he was collapsed on the sidewalk, Tim was screaming so much he had to be held up and comforted. It was so unfair that he’d just gotten Scott back, and now Scott was being taken away again. Scott feels like a prize, a thing to be owned. Again and again, there’s so much talk of him not ‘letting’ Scott do things. Several times, Tim grabs Scott by the hair, slams him up against walls, tells him not to be lippy. He never asks Scott for permission, he doesn’t ask what Scott wants. He makes the unilateral decision that, now that Scott’s back in town, he belongs to Tim.
Personally, I didn’t find this romantic in the least, but for some people a possessive, dominant lover is their catnip. I just feel that the possessiveness was more shaded towards an unhealthy obsession and the dominance has too much of an edge of ownership and violence for me. The fact that Tim was angry Scott had had other lovers, the constant reminder of how much of a right he had to be angry with Scott, the lack of respect he had towards Scott, it all turned me off of the relationship completely.
Tom never asks Scott what he wants, or even whether he wants. He tells Scott, flat out, that he owns him. Owns his dick and his pleasure, and Scott isn’t able to do anything about it. There’s always pressure put on Scott to obey, using both sexual and emotional threats and coercion. This is not a relationship I want to read more about, and this is not a story I can recommend.
I think narrator Collin Darcy did a decent job with the audio. He had a slow, even pace, a pleasant voice, and managed to keep the voices of the main characters distinct. Some of the voices for the side characters wavered in and out, but when he did Gabriel’s voice at the end, I really think he nailed it.