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American Ghosts: A Memoir    by David Plante order for
American Ghosts
by David Plante
Order:  USA  Can
Beacon, 2006 (2006)
* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

This - my first exposure to David Plante's writing - was a confused one. The author's snail-pace style made me consider whether it was a book to pursue to the end. Yet Plante's lyrical prose intrigued me. His mood is one of mournful, grieving tones, projecting isolation and sorrow, and lending to self-discovery, self-flagellation, and self-assessment, as well as the consideration of others who passed through his life.

David Plante begins with his family. His Franco-American, Catholic parents were loving, but his father was stoic and withdrawn, and his mother subdued, 'anguished by the claustrophobia of her own life', yet pushing David toward the outside world. There were six brothers of whom he writes little until the end of the book, telling where each is in their life. Matante Cora, who devoted herself to 'suffering for God', provided David with traces of family history. His Blackfoot Indian great-grandmother was baptized Rosalie Cliché Kirou. She married French-Canadian fur-trader Adolphe from the village of Saint-Barthelemy, Quebec, Canada. Plante takes a journey to the lands of his ancestors, eventually finding what it seems he needs to discover.

The author recalls a period in his adolescence when he was an 'extremely devout' believer in God, and describes the effects on his character in the primary grades of living in what was referred to as Le Petit Canada, 'where we preserved the beliefs of Le Grand Canada.' At fourteen he left the parish school Notre Dame de Lourdes to enter an all boys Catholic high school at La Salle Academy (not French) under the auspices of an Irish order, the Christian Brothers. Plante's next step in education was Boston College, with the Jesuits and courses in philosophy, logic, epistemology, and ontology, based on the writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas.

Plante reached a period where he 'wanted to get out of America', for his own personal development. In 1959, at age nineteen, he traveled by ship via New York to France - 'In Paris, I felt I was, with my old French, a provincial colonial who, after generations, was in the capital to see the sites ... that his ancestors had seen.' His religious beliefs wavered, and in Copenhagen he writes, 'No one else was on the tower. I hung my umbrella over the railing, sat on a bench, and began to write in my diary ... It was eleven o'clock. I shut my diary and closed my eyes and thought, 'There is no God'.' He tells of falling in love for the first time with Spanish Oci, and in later years he entered a life partnership with Greek Nickos Stangos. In between, Plante entered the Catholic University of Louvain Belgium. The reading of the works of Henry James became a world to him.

American Ghosts is a voyage of self-discovery, traveling 'through a past littered with the ghosts' of ethnic lineage and family heritage. The author discusses his sexuality, his writing life, and the search to make sense of his spiritual self. Plante is an intellectual talent, a teacher, a writer, who wrestled with, attempted, and finally defined 'the demons', while raising questions about the nature of existence. Plante writes, 'the agony of writing was to find in it a secret - a secret that was, like some inner bright globe, touched on but that remained, however much one's touch penetrated it, inexhaustible. To have everything in that secret - 'to have the far-off hum of a thousand possibilities, the shimmering of the whole circumstance, the bigness, big with the breadth of great vague connections' ... to bring that secret up out of its depths ... was what writing was about ... And Henry James assured me of this belief.'

Since the early 1970's, David Plante has authored fourteen novels and his first memoir, Difficult Women, an account of his relationships with Jean Rhys, Sonia Orwell, and Germaine Greer. Plante is a professor of creative writing at Columbia University. I recommend American Ghosts to academia, and to readers with a penchant for deep, philosophical meanings, and introspective memoirs.

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