Celia’s niece is dead. She suspects that her sister did something horrific, and those suspicions eat at her. She hides in a solitary routine—tending neglected graves in a local cemetery.
Trish works at the cemetery, designing a new line of non-traditional headstones. She’s pregnant, wrestling with the demands of marriage and pending motherhood.
These two women provide the focus for Shullamuth Ballinger’s literary ghost story, Bee Candy, Headstones, and Hungry Spirits. The third corner to the novel’s triangle is a restless spirit who trips the afterlife on a series of pranks—some harmless and some dangerous.
I love a good ghost story. This one satisfies without falling back on some of the standard tropes you’d expect. Much of the story takes place in the graveyard, but the focus is on the people who work and visit—a nice, modern turn on what might have been a tired setting. The men who love Celia and Trish aren’t brusque or bumbling—they’re kind, patient and centered.
Which brings me to characterization—the element that makes Bee Candy a memorable tale. The major characters are wonderfully drawn. The supporting cast is quirky without being fake; memorable without being intrusive.
Ballinger’s prose is laced with a balance of poetry and pop reference. The poetry sometimes overwhelms, but this is a minor quibble.
A word about the ending. This novel does have a villain (though she’s sympathetic in a way that only a wise and insightful novelist could manage). And the conclusion is both dark and bittersweet. This novel stuck with me for days. If you’re in a reflective mood, I can’t imagine a better Halloween treat.