Read about it in the newspaper--"Hull native publishes a novel."
I'm a sucker for local fiction; after all, I live in a unique place. No county in the nation has as high a percentage of Dutch Americans; no county in the state is so lopsidedly Republican. We're among the state's most abundant producers of pork and beef and dairy and chicken. We're immensely prosperous; a section of land here is worth as much and more than a section anywhere in the region. Oddly enough, we trail only Johnson County (University of Iowa) and Story County (Iowa State University) in lowest median age, which means, interestingly, we do a better job of keeping our kids at home than any other rural Iowa county, which is no small deal in the Upper Midwest, where kids may well be our most bountifully export.
Okay, every place is. But not every corner of the world can make the kind of claims I just did.
So when someone publishes a novel that's set here, I read it because I want to see what's being said. After all, I know for a fact that there are thousands of neighbors in North America who consider the Dutch Reformed something of a cult. Well, that's pushing it maybe--how about something akin to Mormons or Mennonites. We're strangely apart. We're weird. To some, we're self-righteous bigots.
What's more, BJ Sheldon is an ex-patriot: the newspaper story says she now lives in New Jersey. When the diaspora writes novels about Sioux County, we're generally in for a licking.
After all, we are unique.
Anyway, this one, Haunting, is what we call "genre fiction," a novel aimed at very particular readers, in this case, young women. The author describes the genre this way: "YA [young adult], paranormal romance." I had only the foggiest notion of what that means. Having now been "haunted," I know, and, for the most part I can state unequivocally that the novel has nothing at all to do with Sioux County because it has everything to do with genre.
What BJ Sheldon is doing is creating is Twilight Saga in tulips and wooden shoes--young, thoughtful girls-who-are-just-becoming-women (with Dutch surnames) falling head-over-heels with marvelous hunks of maleness, who generally are safely beyond the limits of actually being male, ghosts or vamps or zombies, masterpiece sweethearts who have no real hearts, even though whatever does or doesn't beat beneath those gorgeous abs is perfectly dear and oh, so precious. You know.
Haunting has nothing to do with Sioux County beyond some locale and family names--like Dykstra and Vermeer. For that matter, the novel has little to do with real life since it's major conflict is some heavy breathing between16-year-old Dusty Vermeer and a Korean War vet--I'm not kidding, someone old enough to be her grandpa, but whose life is permanently on hold at 22 or so. What this wandering ghost hasn't determined is why he's restricted from any ordinary afterlife and sentenced instead to hang around a Sioux County farm Dusty's family has come back to Iowa to operate. He's a ghost but he doesn't know his own story. He's Ryan Gosling with early onset Alzheimer's. And, no, there's not much about farming either.
It's a murder mystery with ghosts fashioned like Greek gods, sweet and syrupy young men who have nothing in their trousers. It's like the photographic negative of porn--maybe porn for girls. It's all about lusty silliness.
Should my granddaughter read it? She's almost of age, after all.
I'd rather not. It's just dumb. It won't teach her a thing about life or even herself; but it will tickle her fancy--at least that's what the genre does for millions and millions of girl fans.
"People without hope don't write novels," Flannery O'Connor used to say. I think she's right. B J Sheldon writes novels, and I know it's hard work, so who am I to judge? B J Sheldon's got so much hope, in fact, that supposedly there will be more in "the Dusty Series," all, you can bet, "YA, paranormal romance."
Ms. Sheldon didn't mean Haunting for old retired guys like me. A Korean war vet murdered by his best friend, Handy Hank the Hardware man, who wanted the same girl way back in 1952? Rock Hudson cast forever as Hugh Grant? B J Shedon had no intention of telling the truth. She simply meant to tickle fancies.
And this old man giggled.