Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I picked this up when it first came out, but, unlike most Seanan McGuire books, I didn't immediately tear into it. I was familiar with Rose's story thanks to the serial fiction published in The Edge of Propinquity. It turns out the book is as far removed from the serial as the serial is from the original song that inspired it.
Rose Marshall is a road ghost. If you've ever heard the tale of the hitchhiking ghost who vanishes before reaching its destination, you know the other side of Rose's story. Rose is a benevolent ghost, but there are those who don't think so, and want her stopped. And then there's Bobby Cross, the reason she's been stuck at age 16 for the last 60 years. She lives in fear of being caught by him, at the same time as she rescues those who die on the road from his grasp.
The story doesn't entirely lose its serial-fiction roots. Rose repeats herself frequently and explains things the reader might already know. Each chapter could easily be read as a stand-alone story, though you'd lose the overall narrative arc. Rose warns the reader early on about the fluid nature of time to a ghost, and so it makes sense that she might go over things she's already said. She's not sure where the reader is jumping into the story.
Rose's voice is more lyrical and rich than Seanan McGuire's other first-person narrators. She speaks in metaphor and imagery, evoking the sort of rambling thoughts that can only come to mind when you're alone on a lonely stretch of road with nothing better to think about. That's not to say the book rambles. She often sets the mood with a few well-placed words. Her voice reads as a combination of road metaphors, 1950's slang, and trucker shorthand.
If you've read the serialized version of this story, you'll have the bare bones of the plot laid out, but you'll have missed out on a lot of details that tie the story together. I couldn't do a compare-and-contrast, because I can't be positive if I forgot certain details from the serialized story or if they weren't there. I do know that this version of Rose's story is the richer and more vibrant.
Rose's story takes place in the same universe as McGuire's InCryptid stories, which start with
. Rose refers several times to the Healy family and its creepy, possibly-haunted house in her hometown, though none of the family members make an appearance. Rose is seeing another side of that world. I can see where she might cross paths with a future InCryptid story, but there's no room for it in this tale.
Once upon a time, the "Sparrow Hill Road" short stories made me interested in looking up road ghost stories to learn more about the tales Rose refers to. Sparrow Hill Road in its polished form makes me nostalgic for a time I never lived through, and finishing it makes me miss a friend I've never met. Unlike in the short stories, this version leaves room for more of Rose's story. I look forward to visiting more of the second America Rose guides us through.
I've been recommending this book all over the place to friends interested in ghost stories and local tales and urban legends. It's an excellent compilation of those tales, at the same time as it gives them a face and their own voice. I can't overstate how highly I recommend this book.
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