"CAN'T I BE an ordinary, unexceptional psychic,"asks Deirdre Gage, the narrator of this utterly arresting novel, "making up the whole thing and watching soap operas in the meantime?"
Not a chance.
We knew it right from the start, when Deirdre spots a steamy "REMEMBER ME" on her bathroom mirror. It's a message from her brother, seven years dead.
But Deirdre has been remembering Robert ("thin as an eel . . . so silky and beautiful"). That's her problem. "The body is only the delicate pillowcase of the soul in the great bed of the Universe," Deirdre tells herself. Alas, "The great single bed."
Enter her next client, Brandon Severr, who proves a good reason for Robert's reminder. We are so drawn into Deirdre's quietly quirky frame of reference that we see at once, as Robert's ghost did, the sexual threat that Severr poses.
On the other hand, were we to blink, we'd be back in our own world, where Severr, complete with his obsession with Yukio Mishima and ritual suicide, is but a California caricature.
Thing is, we don't blink. The author holds us, through Deirdre, in a tender and difficult balance. Scenes that might have been farcical have, instead, a comedic elegance. In ballet class, for instance, an unseen Robert partners Deirdre:
"Around my waist the celestial cummerbund takes over. My body is the helium balloon that the small child lets go of, the surprise of consequence. Who knew that we could drift up and out forever. . . . My toes hit the ground again and Robert releases his hold."
Deirdre's mother, Lana, introduced her to the mysteries which plague and surround her. Deirdre takes us to Lana past ("She always looked so tan and lively, always looked as if she'd just been laughing; her hair was always loose and slightly untidy, as though she'd just come inside from outside where it was wild and lovely and windy, and outside might have been Acapulco or Puerto Vallarta, although she'd never been to either of those places") and Lana present ("She is wearing a Lily Pulitzer resort outfit, pink and green, and her hair is short and frosted, pleasant against the light tan of her skin").
In between, we hear of Lana's own flirtation with things otherworldy, progressing from Ouija board to a round of conventions for psychics ("We were on all the mailing lists.") It's no wonder Deirdre winds up, after Robert's death, a scholarship student at the Spiritual Arts Academy in Hermosa Beach.
Near the end of the book, Deirdre is at a Palm Springs resort with Severr, gowned in a kimono. The ceremonial sword and dagger are at the ready. Where else could any of this lead?
Wrong. We get, instead, a snappy and satisfying West Coast close.