"Ghosts don't do things to you. Ghosts make you do unspeakable things to yourself."
Here's what Sean Stewart's newest novel is not: it is not predictable, it is not trite, and it is most definitely not boring. It is also, quite frankly, not quite like anything else I have ever read, from Sean Stewart's hand or anyone else's.
On the other hand, "Perfect Circle" is one of the most remarkable and original novels I've read in some time, and of the three Stewart novels I have read, it is easily my favorite (which is saying something -- I enjoyed "Galveston" and "The Night Watch" quite a bit as well). "Perfect Circle" is clever, spooky, funny, sad, sharp, observant, honest, thoroughly modern yet somehow timeless, and very, VERY well-written.
In the pages of this short novel, clocking in at fewer than 250 pages in total length, Sean Stewart accomplishes what most writers can't seem to do in a work twice as long. He tells an emotionally honest, unique, and gripping story, featuring characters that are accessible and full-bodied, expressing themes and ideas that resonate long after the reader has turned the last page and closed the book.
"Perfect Circle" is a book about ghosts, about loss, about grief, about responsibility, about family, and about coming to terms with one's lot in life. It is a fantasy novel of sorts, in that it expresses ideas that fall outside the "natural" laws we accept today, but it is a fantasy novel bearing the dark edge of reality. This is no escapist fantasy, but rather a strange sort of realist fantasy. It is a combination which Stewart had always danced with in his other work, but never more effectively than in this book.
As always, Stewart's prose is a marvel in itself. In his other work I could always see the flair of a poet in his words, and it's here too, but more balanced than before by a succinct, efficient use of words and dialogue. Stewart tells us just enough, never too much, and lets the reader fill in many of the blanks. His use of dialogue is witty and very real, on a par with Quentin Tarantino's handling of dialogue in his films, or Nick Hornby's novels.
Comparisons to other authors (Nick Hornby and Stephen King come to mind most readily) are somewhat apt but do not provide a whole picture. What Sean Stewart has really done in "Perfect Circle" is to establish himself as his own voice, mostly unlike anyone else's. The book could be applied to several genres but not firmly pegged in any of them, and the author is in a class all his own.
To put it simply, this is one of the best books I've read in quite a while. Sean Stewart was already an excellent author in my eyes, but with "Perfect Circle" he has outdone himself. He has written that rarest of things: a truly unique story told in a truly unique way. It is not the story itself which stands out so much as how he tells it, and what it does to the reader. Like a great movie or a really effective piece of music, this little book will echo in your mind and in your heart long after you've put it down, and it will stay with you.
"Perfect Circle" is, in the best sense of the word, haunting.