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A Soul in a Bottle Hardcover – November 15, 2006
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|Hardcover, November 15, 2006||
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From Publishers Weekly
In this taut, eerie novella from Powers (Three Days to Never), used-book hunter George Sydney finds he can summon a beautiful poet when he discovers a signed volume containing a previously unknown variant of one sonnet. The good news is that he can bring the mysterious woman, Cheyenne Fleming, back to life. The bad news is that if he does, he will never meet her, and the act itself may harm an innocent. Set in Los Angeles, Powers's intricate story shows how Sydney's loneliness and alcoholism leaves him vulnerable to someone (or something) that is not what it appears to be. There are no thin, hairy specters lurking in this tale, and no cold grue to chill one's bones. Its impact is more moral than visceral, evoking the pity and fear that are hallmarks of tragedy. Exquisitely illustrated by J.K. Potter, this slender volume is sure to appeal to epicures of the terrible. (Dec.)
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Top customer reviews
George Sydney makes a living off of used books -- he hunts down rare tomes and then sells them at a profit. And one day he finds a very, very rare book: a copy of poet Cheyenne Fleming's work, but with a sonnet that has never appeared in any other book. And on the same day, George encounters a beautiful young woman... and soon learns that she's the ghost of Cheyenne Fleming.
As he falls in love with her, George begins to search out the details of how Cheyenne really died, and what is tying her to the mortal world. There may be a way to restore her to life, but it would mean changing the past -- and the present.
Tim Powers seems to have a preoccupation with ghosts tied to material objects. You could see it in "The Bible Repairman," and it's the whole point of the story in "A Soul In a Bottle." This ghost story isn't scary, suspenseful or even weird -- instead it's a bittersweet contemplation of love, death and art, with a bittersweet denouement that leaves you thinking.
Powers paints Los Angeles as a grey, rainy place that is full of ground-up dreams, dirty streets and monuments to the celebrity dead. But the place lightens up whenever Cheyenne appears, a vibrant colorful flame even after she's dead. Apparently Powers based her on Edna St. Vincent Millay, and clearly he overflows with personal and professional respect for her.
"A Soul in a Bottle" is only a short story (and can be more cheaply obtained in one of Powers' later collections), but is a sublime little story that leaves you with a little twinge of heartache.
`A Soul in a Bottle' is more an idea than a story. It is a mere sketch. The editorial review calls it a novella, but that is inaccurate - it is a short story, and not a very long one at that. Why it was sold as a stand alone book (with a mere 82 pages of extra large print) is a mystery, as this story wouldn't even feel finished as part of a collection. Had it been given room to grow, to mature, to stretch out a bit, it may have become another eerie Powers' masterpiece. The elements are there - I can see the ghost of a brilliant idea in it, but it never grows into its potential. Powers shows us the relationship between the protagonist and the ghost, but he never really makes us feel it, and what is the point of a ghost story that you cannot feel?
If you are a Tim Powers fan as I am, you may still want to read this one to glimpse what might have been in this stillborn attempt of a fine idea. Check it out of a library, though, and save your money for Powers next effort.
In the meantime, shopping for books, George discvers a volume of poetry written in 1968, whose author later committed suicide. Adding to its value is the poet's rarely seen signature.
Finally, we meet a third character, a woman in her seventies, who seems to be watching George and the girl.
Powers is a terrific storyteller, with an evocative style that quickly enfolds the reader. This story held a gothic feel for me. At its end, you are left wondering to whose soul the title is referring. Each day brings choices; we can only pray the ones we make do not cost more than the value of what is gained.
JK Potter's illustrations are a perfect match for the novella. Potter is always superb.
'He crouched beside Jean Harlow's square and carefuly laid one penny in each of the three round indentations below her incised signature,then wiped his wet fingers on his jacket. The coins wouldn't stay there long, but Sidney always put three fresh ones down whenever he walked past this block of Hollywood Boulevard.'