Ghosts, History, Tradition

Jackiedsessions lgArrived at my parents’ house for the Christmas holiday; there’s nothing to do here except eat, which might be good for the blog. I brought an iPad full of ebooks, and two physical books, both short story collections: The Jack Daniels Sessions, by Elwin Cotman, and Ghosts of Yesterday, by Jack Cady.

I mentioned Ghosts of Yesterday before; I picked it up around Thanksgiving, and I’ve been sort of sipping at it on and off since then. I picked up The Jack Daniels Sessions a while back on a recommendation by Jesus Angel Garcia, the author of badbadbad. I started Jack Daniels Sessions yesterday. If you read like I do, multiple short story collections simultaneously, Cotman and Cady make a good pairing.

I wonder if Elwin Cotman is a fan of Jack Cady’s. The ghosts in his stories are present in a sort of matter-of-fact manner, part of the natural landscape, in a way that reminds me of Cady. I don’t want to call it magical realism, because the kind of stories that I consider magical realism (Cortázar, Borges and Alfau come immediately to mind) tend to be more, well, realistic. Mysterious, unexplained things happen in magical realist stories, but as far as I can remember, you don’t get ghosts, or anything supernatural, really.

I suppose I would call what Cotman and Cady write something more like “magical naturalism”. Most people just call it fantasy.

Now, I don’t hang round ghosts, as a gen’ral rule. It’s not that they’s dead, though that’s part of it. It’s that they don’t make no plans. They never talk about what they’s doin tomorrow, cause they ain’t got a tomorrow. All day and night they just hang around windmills and abandoned cabins and talk about the past. It’s depressin as hell.
— Elwin Cotman, “How Brother Roy Lost his Dog Twice.”

To Cady, ghosts are a force from the past, a combination of the history of the place they haunt, and the history of the people who perceive them. Cotman’s ghost are maybe a more traditional type, but if you encounter them, it’s often because you need to.

Here’s Cady:

Mist blew among them, seemed to offer substance, and the shapes became human figures drifting toward fire, unhesitating, herd-like and passive; not, after all, only the ghosts of fishermen drowned, but the ghosts of dreams summoned to the burning; dreams that … fell into mute acceptance.
— “Jeremiah”

Here’s Cotman:

Sometimes she went back home, visited her parents, talked to some old teachers. Inevitably, she drove down the Covington backroads, bouncing along the potholes, the branches clawing and scraping at her car. She would look out the window and see the blue Buick Skylark that crashed years ago…. When she came to the street heading back to town, she could always see the ghosts of herself, Tracy, and Andrea dancing in the grass.
— “Dead Teenagers”

Cady’s stories are set in the Pacific Southwest, or on the trucking routes of the South and Midwest — reflections of his life experiences. Cotman’s stories are set in the rural black South, or in the black or mixed urban communities of the Midwest and Northeast. I haven’t gotten to it yet, but flipping through Jack Daniels Sessions I spotted a retelling of the myth of Jason and the Minotaur, in a Southern folklore style. Gives me a nice little tie-in to Acid Free Pulp’s recent post on mythical allusions in fiction. I also really like “Assistant”, a longer piece that ties racial tensions in 1920’s Mississippi to a little African-American boy’s ancestral shamanic heritage.

I recommended Cady before. I definitely recommend Cotman, as well.

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