Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Legend of Rachel Petersen by J.T. Baroni

Christian Kane is a sports writer for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and tonight is his big night.  After putting in years of work, he believes that he is going to be promoted to the new chief sports journalist.  With the promotion, he plans to buy a new home and live his dream life with his wife Shelby. What starts off as a night filled with hopes and dreams, ends when the job is given to another man.  Christian is livid and the very next day he quits his job. Shelby is naturally concerned but Christian tells her that he has a plan - he is going to write a book, but to do this, they need to sell their home and cash in as much of their savings as possible to live until he can get published.  Shelby is not excited by this idea but, decides to support her husband.

Christian buys a new laptop and sits down to write the next big vampire story, but after handing the first chapter to his wife to read, it's clear that all he has done is turn his vampire into a wide receiver.  When you have been a sports writer for years, old habits die hard. It's not until he comes across   Rachel Petersen's grave on his new property that Christian finally stumbles across the inspiration for his book.  He decides that he is going to tell the story of this young girl.

The novel then switches to Christian's book and we learn that Rachel died during the civil war. It is believed in the small Appalachian Mountain Range community where she lived that she killed herself after murdering her family.  When Seth and Thaddeus Yoder stumble onto Rachel's grave, they start a chain events which unleashes Rachel's ghost.  Is Rachel the vicious murderer, or is she an innocent victim who wants to clear her name?

The Legend of Rachel Petersen, is a scant one hundred and fifty-five pages long and I really enjoyed it.  The switch between Christian as protagonist to Thaddeus was really abrupt and I found it hard to get back into the story at first.  The setting completely changed, along with the language, and I was not prepared for this.  Similarly, the shift back from Thaddeus to Christian was also very abrupt but I found that change easier to deal with, probably because it was a switch back to present day.  The story of this terribly wronged young girl was tragic but so completely compelling.

The largest issue with this book was its treatment of women.  Though Christian says that he would not have become a successful author without the support of his wife Shelby, she really has no drive beyond keeping Christian happy constantly.  In order to ensure that he does not cheat, she buys different sexy outfits and actually binges and purges in order to keep her figure.  Christian is absolutely in the dark about his wife's dangerous eating patterns and this admission is treated as nothing but an aside by the author, rather than the serious health concern that it is.  Every woman Christian meets, with the exception of the older librarian and his agent, comes on to him and of course, Shelby sees them as a threat and a slut.  Shelby also engages in fat shaming and clearly sees her beauty as her only source of power and positive trait. There is also the fact that Rachel, who is the inspiration for this book, is raped and murdered, though she does get her revenge in the end. In The Legend of Rachel Petersen, women are either sex pots or victims and that is problematic.

All of the characters in this novel are straight, and White. I suppose during the civil war section of this book I can excuse this, but when it is in modern times, there is absolutely no reason for such erasure.  The horror comes from the fact that Rachel was murdered but because we are constantly reminded of her red hair, and at the end her purity, it plays upon the media representation of missing and murdered White women. Her purity and her Whiteness are what makes what happened to her so horrific and one cannot help but wonder if Rachel had been of colour, instead of White, whether or not this book would still have been seen as a horror.

Though the erasure and the female characters left much to be desired, I could not help but like this story.  I wish that Baroni had given us more time seeing Christian struggle to write.  It would have given his character greater depth, as well remind the reader how hard it is to actually write a book. Other than the disappointment of losing his dream job, things seemed to come far too easily to Christian and I think that getting a sense that Rachel was haunting him and pushing him to write this book, would have encouraged an investment in him as a protagonist.  I really enjoyed the ending and did not see that coming and feel that in many ways, it made up quite a bit for the awkward transitions in the story. Though at times Baroni's writing was stark, his descriptions of Rachel's ghost were haunting and easy to visualize.  This book is perfect to read wrapped in a blanket on a stormy day.

Editors Note: A copy of this book was provided by the author for review.