Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)
The living are a mystery to me. I didn’t spend enough time as one of them.
Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day was my second ever Seanan McGuire read and it’s just become my first Seanan reread. It also has the distinction of being the only book on my very long list of favourites that, if you were to ask me its name when it wasn’t sitting right in front of me, chances are that I would fail miserably in my attempt to arrange the D’s in the correct order.
Our main character is Jenna, a ghost who volunteers for a suicide prevention hotline, and that right there is the book I didn’t know I needed to read until I learned of its existence.
Jenna’s sister, Patty, died by suicide in 1972. Jenna’s death, shortly after her sister’s, was accidental. Because Patty died when she was supposed to, she bypassed the ghost stage, moving straight on to whatever comes after death. Jenna died before her time so she will remain on earth as a ghost until when she should have died. Except time works differently for ghosts – they can both give and take time from the living.
The guilt Jenna feels over not seeing the signs that led to her sister’s death has resulted in her feeling like she needs to earn her death, only counting the minutes where she’s confident she’s made a positive impact on someone’s life.
I started earning the time I take, justifying it with my actions before I pull it into myself.
I would have been content if that was the entire story, but it’s not. There’s also witches, magic and mysteriously disappearing ghosts. Oh, and a bunch of “feline senior citizens” and cornfields, because this is a Seanan McGuire book, in case you’d forgotten.
If my tear ducts hadn’t suddenly taken a vacation, the dedication alone would have been enough to activate them.
For everyone who has been tempted to go, and has found the strength to stay. I will see you all tomorrow.
Suicide and suicidal ideation can be difficult enough topics to even broach, let alone do right with the sensitivity they deserve. I feel like Seanan has done a really good job here, in the phone call we get to listen in on, in the grief and guilt that Patty’s family experience and the responsibility Jenna feels for not anticipating and preventing her sister’s death.
I’ve paid off a fraction of my debt I owe to Patty, for not hearing the things she never said to me.
It took a little while for me to get my head around how ghost time works but by the time I figured it out, something had happened that has so far always happened when I’ve read a Seanan book: I believed. The characters and the rules that apply in the New York they’re living in felt real to me, and that’s part of Seanan’s magic as far as I’m concerned.
I was entirely satisfied with this story fitting inside a novella during my first read but I’ve gotten greedy since then. I wanted more ghosts, more witches, and more time with those I was introduced to. I could read entire books dedicated to the stories Sophie, Brenda and Delia have to tell.
My reread has raised some questions that my reader’s bliss hid from me during my first read. That was the read that essentially consisted of me marvelling at my good fortune, having so recently discovered a new favourite author.
Don’t get me wrong, though. The question marks above my head did not interfere with my enjoyment of this novella. I still love it to bits. Don’t be surprised if you see me reading it a third time.
Major Spoilers Ahead: Continue reading at your own risk.
It’s mentioned late in the story that
“Ghosts don’t just happen. Someone has to make them. That’s why we all died so early, and why so many of us had freak accidents.”
The person or people or witch or witches who make the ghosts are never revealed. Neither are their motives. Maybe it’s to make sure places are anchored or maybe it’s to make sure time can still be given and taken. The most likely reason to make new ghosts would be to trap them inside mirrors but Jenna has been living her life after death for over forty years mirror free. The not knowing for sure isn’t a big deal in the scheme of things but I would have liked to have at least met whoever it was that was making the ghosts so I could interrogate them myself.
The witch who imprisons almost every ghost in New York must have done a massive amount of research and spent more time than I can fathom collecting a mirror that would work on each individual ghost. It doesn’t say how many ghosts are spending this portion of their lives after death in New York but I’m almost positive that you couldn’t fit all of their mirrors in a supply room.
Content warnings include death by suicide (including the method used).
Once Upon a Blurb
When her sister Patty died, Jenna blamed herself. When Jenna died, she blamed herself for that, too. Unfortunately Jenna died too soon. Living or dead, every soul is promised a certain amount of time, and when Jenna passed she found a heavy debt of time in her record. Unwilling to simply steal that time from the living, Jenna earns every day she leeches with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline.
But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way.