Monday, November 16, 2009

The weirdest *$%#-ing book EVER

So I'm reading Spindrift: Spray From A Psychic Sea and -- what, you've never heard of it? Well, let's see, how to describe it? Frightening? Strangely mesmerizing in a horrible way?Completely effing bat-poop?

Let's take a look at that cover flap, shall we? "It started out as a search for an apartment, changed to a ghost hunt, became a deeper spiritual search that led through the occult and the esoteric philosophies, and concluded with [author] Jan Bryant Bartell's death a few weeks after she had completed this manuscript, which recounts her experiences!" Eek! But wait, there's more: "Like a game of Ten Little Indians, deaths began to occur in the house. The first to die was a dog, Jan's own beloved Penelope. But within twenty-four hours, she was to learn of the death of the first human tenant. Whether by heart attacks, suicide or murder, the deaths came in rapid succession.... In terror, with nine little Indians gone, the Bartells moved far away from Greenwich Village. But the haunting followed them. After the completion of Spindrift, Jan Bartell became the tenth."

Seriously, this might be the most macabre marketing ever. Even for a publisher.

So, to back up a bit, Jan Bryant Bartell was an actress who moved into an apartment on West Tenth Street in 1957 and started feeling chills and things bumping in the night almost immediately. Her husband was a skeptic and no one else saw the ghosts, leading her to undertake a solitary, Rosemary's Baby-like research into psychic phenomena. The thing is, nothing she sees is actually, well, very convincing. It reads like a manual for errors in formal logic as Bartell refuses to consider any number of very real alternative possibilities for the "psychic phenomena" she encounters. Take this whole dog dying business: her dog was 10 years old and epileptic. A sign that someone is reaching out to you from the other side? Or an old dog? You decide.

Also, despite claiming to be an actress, composer, and sometime author, Bartell seems to have spent most of her time decorating and puttering around the apartment. Seems to me like batty housewife syndrome (or "BHS"). She was, apparently, mentally unstable in real life, and her writing certainly brings this across. It's written in an strangely disjointed style, with awkward flourishes, odd imagery, unfathomable turns of phrase ("I was in a state of deferred feeling") and Bulwer Lytton prose: "I was face to face with the unseen!" Oh, and lots and lots of exclamation points! Like this! Far be it for me to diagnose, but her descriptions of sluggishness followed by dazzling bursts of creativity sounds a wee bit... manic-depressive?

And yet...

Her house on West Tenth Street really has been reported to be haunted. And, despite her wackiness, there's something that makes me keep reading this book. Maybe it's just the fascination of trying to figure out if the woman was an insane 1950s housewife who let her neuroses consume her or if she really saw something in that place. Or maybe it's the feeling of dread and unease that I get when I read the damn thing. Seriously, this is not the best book to read before bed (though that's totally what I'm going to do right now). There's something unsettling about it that I can't put my finger on yet, but I'll let you know more when I finish it.

Until then, you can read more about Jan Bartell and the "murder house," here.