GENRES: literary fiction, fantasy, ghost
Every now and then an unexpected book comes along and reminds you why you fell in love with reading. "A Vagrant at the House of Love" is one such book. The storyline is not complex with clever plot twists and surprises. Instead, its power comes from the author’s ability to pull readers completely inside the novel’s dark and curious world. In a remarkably pure and honest effort, John Horan creates a compelling account of what might happen when we die.
The novel starts with Racine staring down at his own dead body. He’d passed away while drunk, choking on his own vomit, “A bit of a rock star’s death.” He expects the proverbial tunnel of light to show up, but when it doesn’t, he wanders about the city where he encounters other “blues”— souls stuck in limbo with no idea what to do about it. Twelve of these lost souls gather nearly every night to discuss their enigmatic condition: “…to be and not to be at the same time.” A drunk, a junkie, a monk, a professor and an atheist are among the eclectic group that tries to theorize why they’re stuck between worlds and how they might move on.
“And so we’d spend our nights chattering and our days [wandering] around looking at people. After a while you’d take a few as pets.” Racine takes Michelle, a beautiful mess of a girl, to be his pet. He follows her around and becomes obsessed with trying to save her. For these efforts he gets some unconventional lessons on love, belief, failure and forgiveness.
The author’s unsentimental exploration of death and all its mysteries in the hands of these vagrant spirits makes for a fascinating read—honest, comical, sad, philosophical and hopeful all at once. Though explicit on the topics of sex and drugs, there is an innocence and purity to the storytelling that shines through brilliantly. This is the most striking thing about the novel—the narrative feels so pure and sincere. While the story is worthy of praise, it must also be noted that, throughout this edition, there are editing and format issues that need to be cleaned up if this special little novel is to get the attention it deserves.
The Vagrant at the House of Love is for readers who want to explore a heavy topic like death by immersing themselves in the magic and mystery of a great story. It’s somewhat like a gritty, street version of the novel “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.” At 104 pages, it’s a short read with a big heart.
5 stars and an Underground Top Pick!!
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Candi Sary, author of Black Crow White Lie, has made the finals in several writing competitions, including the William Faulkner William Wisdom Writing Competition and the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. She lives in coastal Southern California with her husband (while her 2 kids are off at college), and can often be found surfing the waters of Newport Beach. You can find her at www.candisary.com.