three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
29-July-Aug-2007
user_rating: 
0

A-SoftspokenSanie Bullard, a frustrated 20-something writer, and her husband Jackson, an aspiring lawyer, return to the Bullard family’s shabby South Carolina estate. He’s studying for the bar exam; she’s at loose ends. Jackson’s brother, Will, a drug aficionado, and his sister, Louise, a true eccentric, round out the group. When Sanie hears voices, she chalks it up to Will’s antics (assisted by the peyote she has ingested). The reality, she soon discovers, is quite a bit more disturbing: the family’s history is a tangled web of violence and madness that makes itself known in unexpected—and horrific—ways. We can’t say more!
Night Shade. 200 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 1597800732

The Agony Column 4 of 5 Stars
"Shepard is one of America’s best-kept secrets, a great writer who produces superb work every time out of the gate, yet seems to remain beneath the radar of American mainstream readers. … [Softspoken] is a subtle and powerful novel that perfectly encapsulates the Southern Gothic." Rick Kleffel

St. Louis Post-Dispatch 4 of 5 Stars
"Anyone familiar with Lucius Shepard’s writing knows that his prose packs the power of myth, and he brings the same authority to his rendition of a ghost story, Softspoken. … The revelation, when it comes, is stunning and bloody; Shepard’s denouement is merely perfect." Dorman T. Shindler

Sci Fi Weekly 3 of 5 Stars
"Sanie’s tale is, ultimately, after the final page is turned, a little slight: a woman, some ghosts, a bad husband, a weird fate. But while you’re immersed in its ectoplasmic toils, you get the full measure of domestic creepiness and occult horror." Paul DiFilippo

Critical Summary

Hugo and Nebula Award winner Lucius Shepard reveals himself as the master of the ghost story in Softspoken, a short novel packed with plenty of atmosphere and big scares. (Shepard’s best work to date has been his novellas, which explains the success of such a compressed novel.) Critics favorably compare Softspoken to The Haunting of Hill House, Ghost Story, and Bag of Bones, among other horror classics, and to the work of Tim Powers and James Blaylock, who have similarly crossed over. They also praise Shepard’s ability to balance a conventional southern gothic—including convincing minor characters—with the tautness of a well-paced psychological thriller.