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A Density of Souls    by Christopher Rice order for
Density of Souls
by Christopher Rice
Order:  USA  Can
Miramax, 2001 (2000)
Hardcover, Softcover, Audio

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

ADensity of Souls begins, appropriately enough, in Lafayette Cemetery in New Orleans. Four thirteen-year-olds (three boys and a girl) have biked there to play hide and seek amongst the alleys of tombs and mausoleums. Meredith sees something that disturbs her. Afterwards, when a storm and lightning scare her, Stephen offers comfort with a rhyme taught him by his dead father ... 'Fear cannot touch me ... It can only taunt me, it cannot take me, just tell me where to go ... I can either follow, or stay in my bed ... I can hold on to the things that I know ... The dead stay dead, they cannot walk. The shadows are darkness. And darkness can't talk.'

We next see these young adults in their freshman year of high school - good friends Greg and Brandon, centered in the jock crowd; Meredith deliberately turning her back on Stephen and saying the words that gain acceptance to the in-group; and the outcast Stephen labelled a 'fag' by his erstwhile companions, who treat him abominably, at times viciously. Stephen armors his soul against the cruelty and 'whispers of the three friends who had abandoned and branded him' with the desire he feels when he first sees a photo of Brandon's older brother, Jordan Charbonnet.

While it would be comforting to believe that this kind of teen cruelty is uncommon, it rings true, though the surrounding adults do seem incredibly disassociated from events. Meredith's feelings of guilt manifest in a journal, in which she pens old secrets, while hiding her intelligence from her teachers. One of them muses 'I love chiseling at the gold-plated lock you have on your mind, Meredith.' This sentence is typical of the author's sardonic observations of the teenage experience, as are Greg's self-satisfied thoughts after his first sexual fumbles with Meredith ... 'He had lost his virginity and wrestled his best friend - plenty of accomplishment for one night.'

I found the raw potency of the early part of this book gripping. Following are a series of tragedies associated with mystery, and an unfolding that could reasonably be entitled 'A Dissolution of Souls' on all sides. There is a strong element of horror, and consequences that ripple outwards. The characterization is indeed dense, with obscure motivations, rooted in the early sexual interactions of the boys, and in Meredith's developing guilt about her role. A Density of Souls is not for everyone, but it does give voice to the pain of adolescence, in particular that experienced by the outsider, but also by those who lose themselves by playing to peer expectations.

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