|Eric D. Lehman is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing at the University of Bridgeport. He is the author or editor of 22 books, including The Foundation of Summer, 9 Lupine Road, A History of Connecticut Wine, Bridgeport: Tales from the Park City, and Homegrown Terror: Benedict Arnold and the Burning of New London. His biography of Charles Stratton, Becoming Tom Thumb, won the Henry Russell Hitchcock Award from the Victorian Society of America and was chosen as one of the American Library Association’s outstanding university press books of the year.|
Review by Eric Lehman
Tamper, the new book by Bill Ectric, frames itself as a boy named Whit’s effort to comprehend his past. Did he have a prophetic dream about a bag of bones on the side of the road? Did his friend Paul Clemmons really disappear in a pile of leaves, never to emerge? It is not at all clear. What is clear is that Whit and his friend Roger live on the border of what we would call reality. They spend their teenage years searching for hidden doors and paranormal evidence, publishing their findings in a newspaper, Astral Beat. They often
seem to be looking for a guide, like the mysterious Olsen Archer, who will hopefully hand over the secret keys and confirm their suspicions. This culminates in a quest far from their small town of Hansburg, Virginia to the island of Malta, for a descent into the mysterious Hypogeum catacombs over an eventful Spring Break.
Coincidences mount throughout Tamper, and the reader, told in chapter one that the narrator may be insane, loses that certainty. The things Whit encounters range from the weird to the downright fantastic, but Ectric never asks for our full conviction. By framing this tale of the supernatural as a coming of age story and telling it in first person, Ectric never asks us to test our own beliefs. Rather, we are allowed to join Whit on his quest of discovery, to be just a surprised as he is by the events and conclusions. Like Kurt Vonnegut often does, Ectric jumps back and forth in time, unsettling our sense of reality, while at the same time keeping us on the edge of our seats. And as in his other works, the author grounds everything in specific
details of time and place, in seemingly mundane American suburbia.
Early in the book, Ectric titles a chapter “Treasure Hunt,” and in a way the entire book is a treasure hunt, for both the characters and reader. As the supernatural-seeking companions search the normal and paranormal worlds for meaning and certainty, the reader follows, searching for the truth of this somehow familiar tale of memory lost. “There’s still so much I don’t know,” the narrator tells us, and he’s right. We may hope that the transition from childhood to adulthood will involve some sort of passing of knowledge, of some exchange of innocence for knowledge. But as Tamper reminds us, truth is a tricky thing, and for those of us fed on the literature of the imagination, it often doesn’t have a ghost of a chance.