Last Night at the Blue Alice, by Mehitobel Wilson
Posted September 6, 2016on:
published Oct 2015
where I got it: received review copy from the author (thanks!)
You can thank the Glymjacks for the fact that you’re not surrounded by haunted houses and angry, vengeful ghosts.
Tonight is the night of Mollie’s final test to enter the ranks of the Glymjacks. If she passes the test, she can say goodbye to everything she’s ever known and loved. If she doesn’t pass, she can only hope for a fast death. Her test involves clearing the Blue Alice, a famous haunted house, of its resident ghosts. Mollie isn’t interested in why these people died, and she doesn’t care that they died. Her mission to learn what they were going through when they died, and ensure that they die in a more peaceful manner. She’s auditioning to be their psychopomp, someone who will help them to the other side, help them go somewhere away from the Blue Alice.
There is a whole ton of gorgeous poetic prose in this short novel, almost functioning as textural and musical bridges between scenes and towards set pieces. Here’s an example that comes right at the beginning, and was one of my favorites:
“You would expect it to be a blue house, but it is not. It’s an exhausted color that warps with the changing of the light, beige at dawn, bone at noon, grey at night. But at dusk, just as the sun falls far enough below the horizon to withdraw all its gold from the landscape, the Alice turns blue.”
A sprawling manse that became a boarding house in the 1920s and then apartments by the 1960s, the Blue Alice has seen it’s share of happiness and misery. Urban legends tell of a woman dressed in white who haunts the building, music playing where there shouldn’t be any, and judgemental demons. Barely a year has gone by in the history of this famous house where a tenant hasn’t fled in terror of something or someone haunting the rooms and halls. It’s time to clean house.
Mollie’s been trained on simulations where she knows just about everything about the person she’s to help. She’s used to being given infol about their childhood, their family, their friends and co-workers, anything that could have been an emotional weight when they died. But real life isn’t like that. On her one night in the Blue Alice, she’ll be given none of that. Tonight, she’ll travel through time and use all her ingenuity and creativity, everything at her disposal to learn as much as she can, as fast as she can, about these ghostly residents of the Blue Alice.
And if she succeeds? She’ll have changed history, and no one will know that the house was haunted, because it will never have been. If she’s successful, no one will believe that she did anything. Is this the life she is yearning towards? To change history and become invisible?
Going into this short novel, I had no idea what to expect. The cover art did get my attention right away, with a spectral woman gleefully looking at a notecard by the light of a candle. Shortly after beginning her test, Mollie meets her second, Dinah. As a second, Dinah will never travel through time, she will never help the nearly departed, all she can look forward to is hearing second hand about Mollie’s experiences. These two could be bound for life, so they’ve got to get along, no matter what.
The writing in this short novel is just beautiful, expressive, highly atmospheric, and poetic. It’s a horror story, but it doesn’t read like one. It reads more like someone who is gently caring for other people, easing them across a bridge over troubled waters. As a kid, I messed up the words to that song accidentally making it much sadder, and even though now I know the correct words, it still makes me sad but very happy when I hear it. This story made me feel similar.
I liked the different people that Mollie meets on their last night in the Blue Alice. She meets them a few hours before their deaths. The two that made the strongest impression on me were Gary, who let’s say, has a whole house full of issues (and almost causes Mollie to fail her exam), and Anavelle the goth girl who has a self affirming epiphany after thinking she’s been contacted by another ghost.
Last Night at the Blue Alice offers a complete story, yet also a lot of set up if Wilson wanted to continue this into a series of short stories or a novel. There are so many stories out there about people who travel to the past to keep people from dying, it was neat to read a story about someone who doesn’t care if you die, she just doesn’t want you to haunt where you died. Mollie cares about she’s doing, she cares about why she’s doing it. If the grim reaper is going to visit you, you want them to be someone like Mollie.