"The Perfect Circle"
(Reviewed by Pat Neuman MAR 22, 2006)
“The message was from Tom Hanlon, telling me his offer was still on the table. A thousand bucks to come see about the dead girl in his garage. I stared at the machine for a long time, thinking about Megan, and bus fare, and rent, and the fact that I didn't have a job anymore. This is how girls get to be hookers, I thought. You get into a jam where you've only got one thing left to sell. … I called him back.”
Will Kennedy is also known as “Dead” Kennedy (DK) for two reasons: His love for alternative music (which is liberally interwoven with the story throughout this book) and the fact that he sees ghosts (which he has tried to downplay for years). He dropped out of high school and married the love of his life, Josie. They were both from dysfunctional families, Josie's dad “did beer, pot, worker’s comp, smack and prison. Her mom stuck to weed and welfare.” But Will owed him because he “taught her to love a loser.” Josie wanted a better life; so when she learned that she was expecting their daughter, Megan, she divorced him. “Josie left me over happy endings. She said that I didn’t believe in them. Said I wouldn’t try.”
Will was pole-axed by the divorce and has never stopped loving her, but he let her go, continuing to store his wedding ring in an aspirin bottle in his medicine chest. Josie re-married an ex-Marine, Don, right away and has allowed Will to see their daughter every other Sunday. This hasn’t been easy because Will doesn’t drive due to potential unpredictable run-ins with ghosts, so he has to conduct his visitations with Megan on buses. He makes a point to never miss a “Christmas pageant or brownie scout merit badge meeting” or any of the other little milestones in Megan’s life and has tried to be the “best estranged father” that Josie can imagine.
Now 32 years old, he is still a serious and deliberate under achiever, has had a series of low-level jobs and is just barely “getting by.” He has a kooky family (Mamaw Dusty, sisters Fontayne and Paris), and friends whose dialogue and voice are both laugh-out-loud funny and painfully poignant. They obviously enjoy and accept him as he is, while colluding to downplay his “thing” about ghosts. “No kid wants to think her daddy is a freak.”
He gets a call from a distant cousin he can’t even remember, who is having a problem with a ghost in his garage. Tom Hanlon offers Will $1,000 to help him get rid of it. This leads to some serious mishaps that totally alter the course of Will’s life. It turns out that the ghost in the garage is there to haunt Tom for killing her. When Tom realizes that Will knows this, he pulls a gun on him. In self-defense, Will douses him with a can of old gasoline just before Tom pulls the trigger. This ignites the gas and kills Tom, who then begins to haunt Will as revenge.
As Will is recovering from his gunshot wound in the hospital, another distant cousin who just happens to be a reporter, questions him about the “ghost thing”. Happy on pain killers, Will bluffs some nonsense about charging $1,000 per day to help people resolve ghost problems. However, when the story comes out in the paper, Will learns that there are an amazing number of people who want to hire him.
Unfortunately, this causes further strains on Will because Don, (Josie’s husband and Megan’s “Dad”) becomes even more convinced that Will is crazy and tries to terminate his relationship with his family, just as threats from Tom Hanlon cause Will to panic and escalate his attempts to protect them. Will’s deceased cousin, AJ, has also begun visiting him regularly and is lovingly (if largely silently) guiding him to helping others in their crazy family as well as discovering some truths about himself.
The story races along, alternately hilarious, scary and touching. The language of Texas, the wicked humor and love in the intimate sketches of the characters, and the flavor of the music resonate with originality and humor. The flashbacks, the dialogue and the story are all fresh, authentic and unique. Ultimately, this is a story about redemption.
Sean Stewart has a penchant for writing action thrillers - with a "meaning of life", but this book is so much more... exuberantly funny, and immensely tender. This is the type of book that you know early on that you never want to end.
- Amazon readers rating: from 26 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Perfect Circle at Salon.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Passion Play (1992)
- Nobody's Son (1993)
- Resurrection Man (1995)
- Clouds End (1996)
- The Night Watch (1997)
- Mockingbird (1998)
- Galveston (2000)
- Perfect Circle (July 2004) (Released as Firecracker in the UK )
- Yoda - Dark Rendezvous (Star Wars: Clone Wars Novel) (2004)
- Cathy's Book: If Found Call 650-266-8233 (2006)
- Cathy's Key: If Found Call 650-266-8202 (2008)
- Cathy's Ring (2009)
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- Official website for Sean Stewart
- Locus Online interview with Sean Stewart
- Encylopedia Hanasiana interview with Sean Stewart
- BookSense interview with Sean Stewart
- CNET article on Sean Stewart and gaming
- SF Site review Clouds End
- SF Site review of The Night Watch
- TrashoTron review of Galveston
- Blogcritics.org review of Perfect Circle
- SF Site review of Perfect Circle
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About the Author:
Sean Stewart was born in 1965 in Lubbock, Texas. His parents moved to Canada in 1968. He graduated from the English program at the University of Alberta and married his high school sweetheart, Christine, who also attended the same college. Christine was offered a post-doc at Baylor University in Houston, so they lived there for several years until Christine was offered a job in Monterey, California.
Sean knew he was going to be writer since he was seven after reading Lord of the Rings. Sean wrote for many years before his first book (actually his fifth) was published by a major US publishing house. He has won four national awards in Canada, had two novels chosen as New York Times Notable Books, and been published in five languages. His novel Mockingbird was a finalist for the Nebula and World Fantasy awards. Perfect Circle was nominated for the World Fantasy Awards and the Nebula, chosen as a Book Sense Notable Book and selected as Book of the Year by Booklist, Locus and San Francisco Chronicle.
Sean has been involved in alternate reality gaming and was lead designer of the team that created the A.I. Web Game called The Beast and also for the "I Love Bees" promotion for the video game Halo 2. He is the chief writer at a game development house called 42 Entertainment, which is a leader in the alternate reality gaming genre.
Sean lives in Davis, California with his wife and two children.