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Perkins, "Dispirited" (reviewed by Scott Parkin) Options · View
jeffneedle
Posted: Friday, June 01, 2012 3:05:52 AM

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Review
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Title: Dispirited
Author: Luisa M. Perkins
Publisher: Zarahemla Books
Genre: Fiction
Year Published: 2012
Number of Pages: 254
Binding: Trade Paperback, eBook
ISBN10: N/A
ISBN13: 978-0-9843603-6-9
Price: $15.95 (print), $3.99 (Kindle, Nook, Apple)

Reviewed by Scott Parkin for the Association for Mormon Letters

A review in four and a half parts (summary, as general market thriller, as Mormon story, as LDS publishing state of the art, recommendation).

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Young Blake is heartbroken when his mother dies, and in his desperation to see her again experiments with astral projection until he finally succeeds. Unfortunately, a malevolent spirit quickly squats in Blake's body while his spirit roams, stealing his physical body and assuming his life while Blake is cast adrift in a sort of limbo that eats away at his identity and sense of self.

Flash forward eight years as 17 year old Cathy is trying to deal with the complete upheaval of her life. Her mother has just remarried after her father's death a few years earlier, and they've moved into a new house out in the country in upstate New York. As she deals with a new school, new friends, and a new father and step-brother, she also starts to see and hear things that no one else can.

It becomes quickly apparent that her new step-brother Blake is more than he seems, and despite her desire to simply wait out the year until she can live on her own, Cathy is pulled into a strange tangle of magic, ghosts from the distant past, and supernatural manifestations that test her trust, her resolve, and her strength as she deals with a series of escalating dangers that threaten the lives of her entire family.

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As a general market thriller this book does a creditable job. After a fascinating first chapter, the pace suffers a bit as we are introduced to a fairly complex situation with a lot of people, places, and concerns, and I found myself checking how long the novel was as I waited for the threat to escalate.

Once the story clears that initial scene-setting stage, the pace picks up nicely and moves briskly through the end. In fact, as events come to a head I found myself actually wanting a few more pages and a little more time spent in the climactic moments. While I found the end a tad abrupt, the story was complete in itself and met my expectations as a supernatural thriller.

The writing here is very clean and sometimes elegant; in all cases it is easy to read and nicely complements the building tension. Descriptions are rich when needed and terse when not, contributing to a strong sense of atmosphere, movement, and pace only occasionally stalled by Cathy's tendency to maunder over her own confusion, isolation, or fatigue. While I did flip forward now and again to see how long she would wallow, those minor interruptions were small and are more indicative of my own impatience to see what came next then any meaningful flaw of the text.

The supernatural elements were interesting, consistent, and plausibly presented in a way that kept me firmly engaged in both the mystery and the uniquely created world (more on this in the next section). The pieces and parts fit nicely together to create a fully realized and satisfyingly rich milieu that remains vivid long after finishing the text.

While I hate to be a curmudgeon--and I admit freely that these fall well within the realm of personal taste--I do have two small nits to pick with how the story progresses.

First, I found Cathy to be just a little too inert at key moments for my tastes. Several times she names a pressing need or imminent danger, then chooses to rest or explore instead of immediately addressing that need. While I'm willing to grant one ill-timed nap, it happens several times and becomes a minor distraction for me in an otherwise nicely paced story.

Second, the climax rushed by for me. While the story hits all the marks and earns all its events, I found myself wanting a little more setup for some of those events (or at least a few more dropped hints), and a little more time spent in the moment. While a quick pace is essential and it's critical not to dump too much information in the key moment, I would have liked just a little more of Cathy's internal voice as she deals with an impossible situation.

This plays into my first nitpick. Cathy seems to stumble onto answers as much as she actively ferrets them out (or creates them by her own will and genius), which leaves her seeming less a heroine than a spectator in key moments. I may be being unfair in that observation; as I said before, the narrative hits all its marks and sets up its key events. For me it's a matter of flavor, and may represent only my personal taste.

This is a fun, well-told, nicely-paced story that succeeds on its own terms. I recommend it as a solid supernatural thriller that builds good tension with a minimum of gore, while presenting some story elements of particular interest to Mormon audiences.

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At no point is Mormonism either a character or is it overtly called out in "Dispirited." Yet there are many small details that leap out as specifically and uniquely Mormon. For example, at one point Cathy observes a spirit's ability to interact with her reality and comments on the finer matter of his spirit body that permits it to penetrate solid surfaces. This is a reference straight out of D&C 131 that Mormons will recognize immediately.

The novel drops these kinds of explicitly Mormon concepts regularly, and that gave me as a Mormon reader an extra level of appreciation for the author's skill in weaving those ideas into a general market supernatural narrative. Such references are always reasonable, earned, and seamless in creating a richly realized world that is deeply influenced by Mormon ideas without ever drawing attention to themselves as such.

In that sense, this is a model of telling a powerfully Mormon story--or at least a story containing powerfully Mormon elements--in a completely natural, fully integrated way. I found these little Easter eggs fun and very well done.

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The idea of Mormon literature as its own category has been argued by some of Mormonism's brightest lights and I won't belabor those ideas here. For my dime this novel is a prime example of one way to successfully introduce specifically Mormon ideas in a natural, skillful way that fully qualifies it as a member of the broad Mo-Lit canon while also appealing to general audiences.

The physical production of the book is also a nice testament to the state of the art of Mormon regional publishers. The book is well designed and produced, and can easily stand on the same shelf as any standard title offered by a national market publisher. The eBook I read was clean and free of errors. Zarahemla has successfully closed the quality gap common with small or regional presses, a fact that speaks well to the ultimate potential for such titles to break into national acceptance.

While I think there could have been a little bit more editorial direction to smooth those couple of nitpicks I mentioned earlier--a notable gap for many small Mormon publishers who don't have the staff needed for developmental editing--I felt this book was well-written, well-conceived, and well-produced. A top job all around.

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I found "Dispirited" to be a solid novel that competes favorably with any supernatural thriller on my bookshelf. While there are always matters of taste or individual preference, this book is a solid offering that deserves wide readership. The story succeeds on its own terms while delivering special gems for Mormon readers. A quality offering that I heartily recommend to anyone.
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