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April 27, 2018

The Ghost Years by Mutch Katsonga ~ A Review & Excerpt

by MK French

Elsie was eighteen years old when she gave birth to her son, but the small family of three seemed to do fairly well. Injured in a terrible car accident, Elsie is ultimately committed to a psychiatric facility and her son is cast adrift. That gets worse over time until finally, he burns all his bridges with family members and fully descends into drugs and alcohol.
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The Ghosts Years
February 2018; 978-1985047266
ebook, print (178 pages); literary
The story spans time before the narrator was born, and tracks his descent into drugs. The language here is very lyrical, more like poetry than prose, especially in chapter sixteen. It's heartbreaking to see the tragedy of the narrator's life unfold, knowing how common it is. I think that never naming him or really describing him is a clever narrative trick because then the reader can identify with him readily. There are plenty of school administrators that want students to toe the line yet still somehow be independent thinkers, and the narrator points out this hypocrisy in a tirade that a lot of teens would cheer over.

Our narrator's rapid descent into drugs is sad. He's aware of how he's perceived and yet can't help himself: "You are the manifestation of their dormant fears. You represent all that they wish they never become." It carves out everything that had made him an individual, leaving him more like a ghost than a person. While he blames the lack of connectivity with extended family, he brought some of the distance on himself. As his situation gets worse, he starts to distance himself from what happens to him, addressing the reader as "you" instead of narrating his life. A random moment of kindness brings him back to himself, giving him the identity and humanity that had been pushed aside in his pursuit of getting high.

Mitch's experience working in the mental health field definitely shows, because this is an accurate look at the life of an addict and the toll it takes on friends and family members. I'm not sure if I really like the narrator, but I don't think that's the point of the novel. Any stress might be enough to tip someone into trying to escape into drugs, and it can be even an insignificant detail that help them hang onto sobriety.

Buy The Ghost Years at Amazon

Read an excerpt

Mother was quite young when she had me. Perhaps too young. At eighteen, her relationship with Dad, eight years her senior, was considered scandalous. They were not married at the time of my birth. Mom had gone into labour whilst staying with her best friend.

‘Retha, after she had been kicked out by Grandma and Grandpa. Mom had always been a strong-willed rambunctious girl, a free spirit, a dreamer, a poet, a painter; her luminous, searching eyes always cast to the heavens. I was to be her only child.

So it was that on a balmy August night over twenty years ago, in a tiny apartment downtown, that a midwife was called. She happened to be one of the middle-aged women that lived in the same apartment complex and was not an actual midwife but in the front room of apartment 215 she discovered a young woman in labour.

The young woman’s name is Elsie. She is gentle, she is kind.A creative fire burned within this sensitive, sweet faced girl like an insistent need, a demand. She loved to paint. She painted all that is beautiful in nature. She painted flowers, she painted birds, she painted heavenly, majestic dreamscapes. “God is a painter,” she would often say to me. Her paintings were pleasing to the eye. She loved the sound of wind-chimes as she painted. She would run her fingers delicately across them and they would sprinkle their sonic star-dust into the air as her brush danced across the canvas.

She dreamed that her talents would, one day take her far. Far away from that neighbourhood, for it was not a neighbourhood of manicured lawns and palatial vistas. It was a neighbourhood where the sidewalks coughed up garbage and grime. It was a neighbourhood where shattered windows, though boarded up, never ceased their jagged yawning. Elsie was a bright flower amidst the grey. She loved to read and sponge-like, sopped up the practical and academic knowledge presented in class. She read voraciously, and delved deeply into the writings of philosophers.

She had a beautiful singing voice too but was always too shy to take to the stage. But you should have heard that girl sing. She sang about her room, she sang into her hair brush, she sang into the mirror, and after I was born she would sing along to the car radio. Those few who were lucky enough to ever hear her felt she was wonderfully gifted. They felt she could have been a famous songstress; a chanteuse. Her friend 'Retha told her so years before and I told her so years afterwards. Grandma and Grandpa always felt she had her head in the clouds and they did not care for her philosophizing, nor for her painting, nor for her… “chanteusing”. She was too bashful to sing when Dad was around but  Aunt Aretha and I would always smile at each other whenever we heard her stir up a tune in the kitchen as she prepared lunch. It was as though the sun had peeped out from around the
clouds to gift us with warmth on an overcast day. At eighteen she had met Dad while doing a temp secretarial job and he, delivering packages for the postal service. Still fresh from military service, he was a mess; horribly traumatized. He was living in hell. Not “Hell”, a place: but hell, a state of mind. This is the worst hell of all, and it may very well be the only hell there is.

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and golden retriever.

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