Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
When Jason Day, video games designer, agrees to watch his precocious four-year-old nephew, Timmy, for four weeks he has no idea how his life will be forever changed by his acceptance. Jason works from home and is a confirmed, but not happy about it, gay bachelor. He is the only immediate family in his his nephew’s life outside of his nephew’s mom as Timmy’s father disappeared several years ago and has never been heard from again. Jason is surprised to find himself bonding with Timmy, loving the 4 year old’s company even as it exhausts him.
Then a young man arrives and announces himself as Timmy’s uncle too but from the other, still missing, side of the family. His appearance starts off a series of startling events, not the least of which is a ghostly presence that is getting increasingly agitated by the hour. Soon Jason finds himself with a burgeoning love interest, a mystery that turns ominous, and a ghost with an alarming sense of humor. Things are getting out of hand and Jason finds himself and Timmy right in the middle of it all. Can the weirdest summer Jason has ever had also turn out to be his best?
I found author John Inman about 5 books of his ago after cuddling up to Loving Hector. Between gales of laughter and more than a few shed tears, I knew that John Inman, with his talent for writing comedic fiction with a heart, would always have a place on my must read author list. After Loving Hector, came Shy, and Hobbled, and Serenading Stanley, and all the rest leading up to Spirit, a whacky, supernatural infused tale of love and what it means to be a family, ancient Chihuawhatits included. And while I can always be certain that each tale of his will include some gut busting scenes of humor and maybe a dog or two, everything else comes as a surprise. That’s what I found with Sprit. Surprise after surprise to my total delight and absolute amusement.
How else can you explain a supernatural love story murder mystery? Because that is exactly what Spirit is, a conglomeration of elements and genres that swirl around a thirty something video game designer, Jason, and his energetic, intelligent 4 year-old nephew, Timmy. It is clear that when Jason’s sister drops off Timmy before heading off on vacation that Jason has only spent short amounts of time with his nephew and has no idea what is in store for him during this extended stay. Why you ask? Because so much of what happens with Timmy here is accurate (ok, supernatural stuff not withstanding). YOu can child proof your house all you want but there will always be something that is missed or not thought of. That haircutting business that Inman throws in? Perfection and spot on. Sometime I will recount my college days in Ohio and a certain preschool playground when scissors reigned supreme and 3 to 5 year olds ran amuck inside those concrete cylinders that were ubiquitous at the time. Thank you, John Inman, for bringing those memories so vividly back home. I had to put my Kindle down because my sides hurt from laughing so much at Timmy and his haircut.
Some readers will look at Timmy with askance. I can hear them asking “Is that really how a 4 year old will act and speak?”
Let me say, with years of experience behind me as a parent and park naturalist, ” why yes, indeedy, they do”. Some toddlers and older kids come out just preternaturally smart and smart mouthed. They can say the most amazing things and have the most acute and unexpected take on situations that astound those that care to listen to them. Not all, surely, but a larger amount of children than you would expect. So when I came across Timmy, I felt as though here was a child I already knew. And watching the relationship between Jason and Timmy unfold was truly a thing of joy. From the funny conversations to the walks they had with Thumper who is, in John Inman’s words ” … a mix of Chihuahua, dachshund, miniature poodle, and quite possibly a three-toed sloth” and also 20 years old, this uncle/nephew bonding time felt real and loving. The love that Jason feels for Timmy grows so strong and heart deep that it becomes ours as well.
That’s the just one of the familial love elements here. Then Inman introduces us to Sam, Timmy’s uncle from his father’s side. With Sam’s appearance, a whole slew of new elements come into play. First there is the love aspect for Jason and Same, who is just as happily gay as Jason is. Their attraction is immediate but there is no instant love to be found here, thankfully. Just a naturally occurring affection that turns into something deeper as time passes and the astounding events unfold. Sam is as realistic a character as the rest of the people to be found within this story. His cautious acceptance of Jason and his pain over the mystery of his brother’s disappearance are easy to empathize with and believe in. So we have love, love, and more love. Terrific and endearing on every level. Did I mention a dog’s love for a boy too? That’s here as well.
Then Timmy starts to see a ghost and everything turns into a supernatural mystery that starts pointing towards an dark happening in the not to distant past. I loved Inman’s ghost, a supernatural entity at turns humorous and chilling. And you never know which side of the ghost will arrive at any given situation. That’s another marvelous aspect of this story too. The ghost does what all ghosts should, scare you, entertain you, and provide a certain amount of pathos one would expect from someone who…..oh never mind, Find out that one for yourself.
So yes, a mystery, a ghostly tale, a couple of love stories, both familial and romantic, Spirit is all that and more. I loved it. Did I see the ending coming? Kind of but that in no way lessened my enjoyment of this story. I don’t think it will yours either. If you are unfamiliar with John Inman, this is a wonderful place to get acquainted. Pick up Spirit and then work your way through his back list. If you are already a fan of this author, then this is another story that you are sure to love. Either way grab it up now and start reading! I consider Spirit to be one of ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords Highly Recommended Novels of 2014.
Here is an excerpt from the beginning chapter of Spirit:
I HAD toddler-proofed the house as best I could. The basement door was securely latched so the kid couldn’t tumble headfirst down the flight of stairs leading into the bowels of the house, snapping a myriad of youthful bones along the way. Electrical wires were safely coiled and taped up and tucked under furniture in case Timmy got the inexplicable urge to chew on them. Electrical outlets were covered. All breakable knick-knacks were raised out of reach and all dangerous objects securely stashed away— switchblades, rolls of barbed wire, plastic explosives, bobby pins. (Just kidding about the bobby pins. I’m not that nelly.)
✍My dog, Thumper, who was a mix of Chihuahua, dachshund, miniature poodle, and quite possibly a three-toed sloth, was no threat to Timmy at all. The poor thing was almost twenty years old and hardly had any teeth left. I hadn’t heard her bark in three years. She only moved off the sofa to eat and go potty, and once her business was done, she stood in front of the sofa looking up like the Queen Mother waiting for the carriage door to be opened until I scooped her off the floor and redeposited her among the cushions. Poor thing. (I mean me.) She lay there all day long watching TV: Channel 9, the Mexican channel. Don’t ask me why, but that was the only channel she would tolerate. Couldn’t live without it, in fact. The one benefit to this annoying habit of hers was that, while I didn’t understand my dog at all, I was pretty sure I was beginning to comprehend Spanish.
✍Timmy was at that happy stage of child rearing where he could pull down his own pants and climb onto the commode without any help from squeamish gay uncles. He had brought an entourage of toys with him that would have kept an orphanage entertained. The first thing I did after finding a trail of little black skid marks on my new oak flooring was to confiscate his tricycle, allocating the thing to outdoor use only, which Timmy accepted with stoic resignation, although I did hear him mumble something about chicken poop and peckerheads. I’m not sure if his watered-down-obscenity-strewn mumbling was related to the tricycle announcement but fear it was. While the kid might have gotten my brat gene, there was also little doubt he had inherited my sister’s sarcastic- foulmouthed-snarky gene. God help his teachers when he started school.
Cover art by Reese Dante. Love this cover. Spooky and pertinent in every way. Great job.
ebook, 214 pages
Published March 17th 2014 by Dreamspinner Press (first published March 16th 2014)
ISBN 1627986812 (ISBN13: 9781627986816)