by Larry Eyre
Wolf Mountain Press
Everyone tortures themselves playing the “what if?” game from time to time. It’s an agonizing game where we imagine an alternate personal history for ourselves if we’d only done things differently. Would I be happier if I’d married my high school sweetie? Would I have a better career if I’d gone to college instead of marrying my high school sweetie? It’s torture because you’ll never know. Memories become the ghosts that haunt you in Larry Eyre’s debut novel, Catharsis.
Catharsis is set in a small Oregon lumber town called Fir Creek. Like many towns that grew supporting a single industry, Fir Creek appears to be dying along with the Oregon timber industry. The town existed to support logging and the local lumber mill. Logging is gone and the mill is “temporarily” shut down when the story begins. Those who could leave have already gone in search of jobs elsewhere. Those people who are left in Fir Creek either can’t afford to leave or are too attached to the place to defect. The people we meet in Fir Creek are complex and somewhat damaged people. The police chief is a recovering alcoholic haunted by a youthful act of defiance. The local garage owner can’t get over the loss of his son in Vietnam. An unemployed boozer can’t stop reliving his high school football glory days. The town itself seems caught in a reverie of lumber days long gone.
Then a bizarre series of deaths shakes the small town. People are dying in freak accidents and apparent suicides. Most of the dead are found with unsettling smiles on their faces. As the police chief tries to make sense of the mounting death toll, he has to face down the ghosts of his past. At the same time, other townsfolk are encountering their own ghosts, ghosts that appear benevolent but could be malevolent.
Eyre weaves a compelling tale of people coming to grips with their pasts. As people start dying under very unusual circumstances, people’s pasts come back to quite literally haunt them. Eyre takes us through a number of dark alleys before revealing the supernatural force that is claiming lives. Catharsis presents an original variation on the suspense thriller. Fir Creek is populated with vivid characters wresting with their personal demons and the town’s collective memory.
Catharsis is a very good first novel that entertains and provokes thought. There are places where the writing overpowers the story, but this is a minor distraction. Eyre spins a good tale with a unique twist on both the mystery and ghost story genres. If you want to read deeper into the text, it will make you think about how second-guessing yourself can be destructive. It also makes you think about our collective memories and how what we think straightjackets our actions.