Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Through a Glass Darkly: Following Christopher Creed by Carol Plum-Ucci

Justin turned and shouted, "It's me people ought to be writing about! Not my stupid, runner brother, you stupid--"

Suddenly he froze, too, looking past my shoulder, where I sensed RayAnn was looking. I turned, somewhere in my mind hearing her cell phone camera clicking away.

It was like lightning, coming up from the ground, as if a bolt of lightning were buried and trying to make its way out. The corpse I had seen last night thrust itself to the front of my brain, and in the flashes of light I saw it across the field.

Justin ran up behind me. "Did you see that?"

He ran as far as the swampy area, probably loaded with snakes, and then stopped.

Justin screamed. "Chris! Come ba-ack!"

I stumbled. I was thinking of what Torey Adams' mom said. "These woods make a body see ... what a body wants to see..."

Christopher Creed had been Steepleton's shunned and abused teen pariah and his disappearance--by abduction, running away, or murder--had uncovered a quagmire of malicious gossip, social inequality, and adolescent and adult dysfunction, chronicled in the popular Torey Adams' blog,, which made Christopher a mysterious minor celeb in the blogosphere. But when, after a long hiatus, the now emerging rock star Torey posts that a body has been discovered in the coastal barrens where Christopher was rumored to have been buried years before, college journalist Mike Mavic, legally blind and determined to build an improbable career, senses a sensational story developing, and with his reporter girlfriend RayAnn, heads for the troubled town of Steepleton.

Once a regular follower of Adams' blog, Mavic finds Steepleton awash in an atmospheric miasma of what he calls "bad frequency," with teenagers still caught in an obsessive fog of drugs played out in a lightning-struct, burned-out stretch of barren dead trees where mysterious lights still seemed to erupt from the sodden soil and Chris Creed's sixteen-year-old brother claims to see his brother's ghostly form in the mysterious flashes. Justin Creed, too, has been drawn back, AWOL from his drug rehab program, by the discovery of a body buried in the swampy woods, but when it turns out not to be Christopher, but a troubled, pregnant teenager, Darla, a real murder mystery is added to the dark aura, a sort of hallucinogenic group hysteria, of Steepleton.

Mike realizes that his original story, the finding of the body of the elusive Christopher Creed, is not the story he finds himself embroiled in, but like some unseen but sensed spirit, Chris Creed's story is hopelessly enmeshed with the world he finds there. As Mike works through the clues behind Darla's death, the reader begins to sense that the chain of events and tangle of relationships behind Christopher Creed's disappearance is at the heart of everything that has happened since, and piece by piece, a picture begins to emerge.

Like her protagonist Mike Mavic, whose vision is restricted to one rectangular frame at a time, Plum-Ucci's storytelling is likewise done in limited frames, each character in the tangled tale shown in a slideshow of stills. Mavic's tunnel vision is an apt metaphor for Plum-Ucci's narrative here, as frame by frame, the interlaced troubled lives of Stapleton come into focus. Eventually, both mysteries find their resolution, but the initial one, the overarching question of Christopher Creed, is not revealed until the ending chapter, where only the most ultra-perceptive of readers will have teased out the lightning-fast flashes of foreshadowing and called the conclusion of this novel before its surprising final pages.

Fans of Carol Plum-Ucci's first book, the Prinz Honor Award-winning The Body of Christopher Creed, will want to read its sequel, forthcoming today, Following Christopher Creed (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011).

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  • Would you be interested in receiving copies of one or both of my children's books for review? One is called The Ghost in Me, which is a middle grade novel. The other is called Little Red Riding Hood, Into the Forest Again, which is a chapter book. Sorry for contacting you in the comments section. I did not see an email on your blog, which is great, btw!

    By Blogger Shaunda, at 7:56 PM  

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