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Confession - I love the supernatural & the spooky season but I'm not a huge horror fan. I want all the gothic vampires, and their centuries long feuds, but I struggle with stories about supernatural entities that can't be reasoned, or bargained, with. As a consequence, finding a ghost story I can get into is rare.

For anyone else who wants a good ghost story but isn't sure they want a scare this Halloween, let me recommend "Taiya", a short story by Vanessa Fogg. It's the delicate, and haunting, story of a young woman's encounter with a taiya; a ghost which appears in an unspecified 'Old World capital'.

Karen and Patrick have uprooted their lives and moved from Chicago to this 'charming brick house with a small side garden, located in a quiet, leafy neighborhood four blocks from the Metro.' Karen left her job, to follow Patrick to this overseas posting, and is now freelancing from their new home. However, her old job hasn't come through with the contracts they promised her, Patrick works late most evenings, and Karen is left in the house unpacking their boxes. Oh yeah, and a whispering 'eaten' ghost.

Karen tries to present a positive front; casting the ghost as 'a story to tell later to her friends back home. Part of adjusting to life in a new country,' but from the off the reader can feel that all is perhaps not right for Karen when it comes to this drastic move. Looking back, after the reader spends more time getting to know Karen, there's a kind of desperation for reassurance in her thoughts about the whole endeavour (and more than a dash of Patrick's persuasion):

'She knows that this overseas assignment is a big step in his career. It’s only for a few years, and isn’t it an adventure? Isn’t it a wonderful opportunity? They’re pushing into their late-thirties, but really, they’re still young; there’s still time for everything, and this, right now, is the adventure of their lives.'

Karen's life becomes a typical story of female isolation, as she sinks into a lonely, unsatisfying life unnoticed by a man engaged in a busy, demanding work life. You might expect to find this kind of story set up in a historical piece, but it's really interesting to see how this type of story continues to be relevant in our modern world. Men still convince women that the changes they need should be good for both of them; an adventure. Men still fail to think about how difficult it will be for female partners to follow them on this 'adventure' when the women have no definite structure to step into but the men do. And women can still become easily untethered from life, despite having had careers and being active about 'settling in'.

Karen tries to keep busy, believing her current lack of work gives her time to 'clean and arrange the house' and explore the city but there's a distinctly unmoored feeling to her new life. While the world around her is beautiful and intriguing 'The air is too bright. Nothing seems real, but she steadies herself and thinks, I’m here. I’m right where I’m supposed to be.'. Feeling like she's right where she's supposed to be seems to take up a lot of Karen's energy.

In the background of Karen's search for purpose is the taiya; the ghost which came with the house. Karen and Patrick are advised by their neighbours not to listen to the taiya in order 'to starve it'. So, Karen sets out to do just that. She listens to music while she unpacks their boxes, and she tells Patrick that the ghost is disappearing. However, she can't escape the fascination of the ghost, and begins investigating local ghosts in general. When she meets a young man whose grandmother listened to a 'taiya' she is intrigued but once again he advises her not to listen to it, and she tries to comply.

After this encounter, Karen 'puts herself on a schedule' to try to forge solid connections with her new world. However while 'She’s okay. It’s exhausting to be okay.' and it becomes clear that Karen is sinking into depression, which the story describes as 'black water rising within her, seeping up through the frozen surface'. She doesn't feel she can tell Patrick because 'there's nothing to tell.' Karen feels like there's no specific reason for her feelings, and she's doing everything she can to combat them. She feels ashamed because her life is 'perfect'. And Patrick, she feels, does not have the same 'black pools' within him and so wouldn't understand.

The taiya can be seen as a symbol for Karen. There's a quote that makes it clear that she has begun to empathise with the ghost.

'The taiya is a ghost without a reason, without identity or purpose. The ghost of a ghost. No one knows why it cries. No one knows where it came from, or why it haunts the place it does.'

However, the taiya also works as a metaphor for Karen's depression itself - the ghost's cry a damaging force that Karen feels she will never escape. She is torn between the impulse to listen to it because it is like her, and the impulse to push it away because it scares her. Society's advice to 'ignore' the taiya acts as a reminder of how society treats mental illness, and emotions it deems inconvenient with no clear reasoning behind them. The comment from the boy Karen meets in the bar that 'Even if we could understand, even if they could tell us, it wouldn’t do any good. They’re not like other ghosts. You can’t do anything for them,' echoes attitudes that just listening, without being able to provide any straightforward curative assistance, is pointless and refusing to acknowledge or "indulge" people's pain will make them "straighten up" and "get back on track".

Thankfully, Karen eventually break free from this advice. She listens to the taiya, which infuriates Patrick. However, he quickly becomes more concerned than angry him as the taiya's call seems to pull Karen toward it. Ultimately, hearing the taiya grow 'louder and louder', 'frustrated', and unable to communicate unlocks something in Karen. She realises 'she is not a taiya' and at the end of the story sets out to communicate the depth of her feelings to Patrick. Whether this works, the reader never learns but the story ends on a hopeful note. And so a haunting brings human hope (even as it poignantly leaves a ghost destined to starve away to nothing) in this intriguing ghost story.

Date: 2017-10-03 02:48 pm (UTC)
cgbookcat1: (giraffe)
From: [personal profile] cgbookcat1
This looks interesting, thanks for the recommendation! Have you read any of Jamie Lee Moyer's books? She has a trilogy set in WWI San Francisco, with a main protagonist who sees ghosts (Delia's Shadow, A Barricade in Hell, Against a Brightening Sky). They're a bit spooky but don't read as horror.


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