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Strange Ghosts

by Darren Greer

Strange Ghosts, the new book from Darren Greer, whose novel Still Life with June was awarded the 2004 ReLit Award, is a collection of 16 recent essays that run the gamut from travel pieces to political commentary to analysis of writers and their works. The disparate pieces are united, however, both by their emphasis on an autobiographical imperative and by the keen clarity and intimate tone of Greer’s prose.

There is writing of considerable power in Strange Ghosts. The opening essay, “Remembering Felix Partz,” documents Greer’s institutional recovery from cocaine addiction, his developing appreciation of modern art (in particular the work of Felix Partz and the arts collective General Idea), his HIV diagnosis, and the influence of these factors on the writing of Still Life with June. There are passages of heartbreak in the piece, epiphanic moments of insight and clarity, yet the essay is remarkably free of sentimentality. Similarly, “Revelation in Venice” deals with burgeoning spiritual awareness, romantic dissolution, and the obtaining of a dog as a companion for the lonely writer, all without dipping into the clichéd or the excessive.

Despite the essays’ subjects (which include travels to the killing fields of Cambodia, Greer’s lifelong reckoning with his homosexuality and its impact on those around him, his father’s frustrations as an aspiring writer, and his mother’s refusal to enter the U.S. following the invasion of Iraq), Greer writes with considerable delicacy and restraint. Buoyed by an optimistic self-awareness and a wry humour, the collection never lags and frequently delights.

While Strange Ghosts is not subsumed by its autobiographical underpinnings, the essays collectively serve to present a vivid portrait of the young writer in his contradictions and confusions, his thoughts and meditations, all underscored with intimacy.