I AM PROVIDENCE by Nick Mamatas. Night Shade Books, New York. $15.99 (US). 241 page paperback. ISBN: 978-1-59780-835-4
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan.
There is one kind of story that never seems to make sense. It is the first person narration of a person who turns out to be a ghost. The questions that hang over it is, who are they telling this story to, how are they telling it and who is listening? If the spirit has gone on to judgement and is having to justify their presence it becomes a different kind of story. Another kind of story that has a low success rate of being convincing is the one set at a convention, perhaps because genre readers are too familiar with them. It is almost on a par of a writer writing about a writer – we want the story, not the story of how the story was written. But like everything, sometimes you find an exception. Nick Mamatas has set his novel at a convention and the first person narrator is dead. His skill has made it work.
Although there are horror conventions with a Lovecraft theme that are held in Providence, Rhode Island, the one featured in I Am Providence is not one of them. Convention attendees may think they know people who have a resemblance to the characters in this book, but that is superficial. All conferences, whether genre, business or scientific have attendees with similar characteristics. That is to be expected. Here, the Summer Tentacular is the H.P. Lovecraft convention which draws this group of fans to the town. Most of them seem to write in, what they consider, the style of their hero. The impression given is that this is a place to have your ego stroked.
From the beginning, we know that Panossian is dead. He tells us so in the first paragraph. He is just as perplexed about the situation as a critical reader might be. He still seems to be able to think and hear. He wonders if this is a condition for all the dead and if this is a phenomenon that fades as his brain rots. What he does, as there is nothing else he is capable of, is to run through in his mind the events leading up to his murder and to try and make sense of them. He can also hear and try to interpret what is going on in the morgue. This excellently handled device keeps the plot going forward as well as filling in gaps in the narrative that only the victim would be aware of.
Paralleling, Panossian’s story, is that of Colleen Danzig. This her first Summer Tentacular and is the outsider through whose eyes we see the other, quirky characters. She appears to be an otherwise well-adjusted human. She becomes involved because, in order to save money, she is sharing a room with Panossian. They have not met before now, except on-line. Because of this, she is asked to identify the body. She is the viewpoint character in the present away from the morgue and aware of any developments in the police investigation.
The murder seems to revolve around a rare book which the author has bound in human skin. For this reason he hasn’t been able sell it on eBay, because they have a policy against auctioning body parts, and skin counts as such. Panossian was sent one of the only five in existence and has a private buyer for it, though for much of the time there is doubt over the existence of the book, or the potential transaction.
Mamatas is an author well versed in the writings and cult of H.P. Lovecraft and to add to the delight of the book, each chapter heading is the title of a Lovecraft story. The design of the book adds interest as tentacles insert themselves into the pages. And tentacles wind through the plot as the origins of the events here stretch back to a time beyond. Recommended.