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- Published on Amazon.com
There is an uncharted territory of the heart, mind and spirit that is a geographical locus as well. We could call it, generally, the outskirts of New York City, neither quite urban nor entirely rural, influenced adversely by the qualities of both. It is into this setting that Keith Dixon, an editor for the New York Times, brings his debut novel GHOSTFIRES, laying bare the extremes of the borders of the complicated relationship between fathers and sons.
The father and son of this novel are Warren and Ben Bascomb, respectively. As GHOSTFIRES opens, the center of their quiet but long-simmering dispute revolves around an act that Ben regarded as a final act of mercy for his terminally ill mother, but that Warren considered to be murder. The father and son relationship, always uneasy, became further unraveled when Warren's medical license was suspended five years previous to the events of GHOSTFIRES due to his addiction to Dilaudid. He subsequently entered into an uneasy, roiling pact with his son, a clandestine arrangement that has kept Ben financially afloat subsequent to a business failure while keeping Warren supplied with the drugs that have enslaved and ruined him.
While the pact brought an abrupt end to their external hostilities, their mutual anger continues to simultaneously consume both men from within. Father and son each despise the other for providing them with what they feel they need: a tenuous financial security for Ben, and the temporary satiation of addiction for Warren. It is this dichotomy that drives GHOSTFIRES.
Dixon, however, infuses this fine third-person narrative from the first page with the implied foreknowledge that the arrangement cannot successfully continue for long. Ben may be a drug mule, but he does not have the personality for it. The people he is dealing with are way out of his league. These include the enigmatic Victor, for whom every deed, even those that might in some way be described as charitable, is extracted only at great price. Warren, meanwhile, is driven entirely by his addiction. His all-consuming desire for drugs both sustains and threatens the arrangement that keeps him supplied and his son marginally solvent. Ben, meanwhile, is on the verge of losing his family. His desperate actions drive his wife Emma back to the home of her parents, where quiet but dangerous insanity reigns.
As the reader gradually learns the motivations behind all of the parties involved, and the history that has brought them to where they are, Ben and Warren move steadfastly toward an apocalypse that will result in a bad ending for one and a bizarre, partial redemption for the other.
While GHOSTFIRES is Dixon's first novel, he remains sure-footed from first page to last, turning over the rocks of the father-son relationship and revealing the quiet, coiled, and dangerous snakes beneath. Reminiscent of some heretofore unknown collaboration between John Barth and George V. Higgins, GHOSTFIRES is not so much a crime novel as a character study, a penetrating allegorical look into the lives of a father and son who, over the course of their lives, have had achievements and disappointments and have been unable to fully come to grips with either. Now, they are inexorably linked together in a situation from which neither of them is able to escape intact.
This is an impressive debut from a writer who unquestionably will have more to say in the future.
--- Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub