Jimmy Lansford has spent decades escaping a life of poverty and abuse. Now that he has a family of his own, Jimmy thinks his childhood trauma is over—until a series of haunting incidents says otherwise. Are his hallucinations supernatural or psychological? He’ll need to find the answer if he wants to stop himself from following in his father’s violent footsteps.
THE POOR AND THE HAUNTED contains a dual narrative, with the chapters split between Jimmy’s childhood and his adulthood. Author Dustin McKissen does a good job of using this structure to highlight Jimmy’s growing instability. The story switches between perspectives, and the narrator often detaches entirely to take on a spectral point of view. The reader looks down on Jimmy like an otherworldly presence. While it makes the story feel disconnected at times, the novel’s perspective also imbues it with an ominous tone that contrasts well with its ultimately optimistic themes.
At the heart of THE POOR AND THE HAUNTED is Jimmy’s relationship with his father. When Jimmy looks in the mirror he sees “the fleshy ghost of Ronnie Lansford”. Jimmy’s struggle with his origins is central to the story’s themes. THE POOR AND THE HAUNTED explores the impact that parents have on their children, a person’s ability to grow beyond their childhood circumstances, and the power of the bond between siblings. Jimmy’s quest for closure is a universal journey that will appeal to readers of many backgrounds.
While THE POOR AND THE HAUNTED’s themes are strong, the prose isn’t quite as sharp. There are pockets of wit throughout the novel; McKissen likes to craft clever rhetorical callbacks, and some of his character descriptions are both particularly insightful and pleasantly subtle. However, the syntax of some of McKissen’s sentences is awkward and his use of the caps lock key can be heavy handed, which makes sections of the book feel gimmicky. There’s nothing that renders the novel unreadable, but there are rough edges that could be smoothed out.
THE POOR AND THE HAUNTED doesn’t reinvent the horror genre, but it does a good job of using the framework of a ghostly haunting to explore important themes of family and trauma, while also thrilling the reader with its sympathetic main character and the creepy, spectral perspective of its omniscient narrator.
~Stephani Hren for IndieReader