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The Late Review: Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance

8th Feb, 2023

Author: Peter Tennant

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Paul Park's novella Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance was released by PS Publishing in early 2013 and as the title seems to be intimating it's a seriously weird work of fiction.

There's an introduction by John Crowley and an afterword by Elizabeth Hand in which both discuss the mental health of their friend Paul Park and his disappearance. Crowley recalls a time when he called Park who didn't answer the phone, and this event is mentioned in the main body of the text, a neat bit of self-reference. Crowley also discusses metafiction, in which Park carved out his corner of the literary landscape. The novella has the subtitle "The Parke Family Scrapbook Number IV". The body of the text consists of literature professor Paul Park searching for an explanation of a painting by his grandfather - the "Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance" of the title - that now hangs on his office wall.

What follows is a series of entries from various family journals, with similar events taking place in different branches of the family and related from different viewpoints, including a shared dream of fighting a zombie army and references to a large stone that appeared in one of Park's early novels, A Princess of Roumania. There are pictures of houses and people, and a reproduction of the painting. And loads of other stuff that seems incidental but carries the plot forward all the same, such as a meeting with an ex-wife in virtual reality Second Life, a wife with whom Park discusses the affair and then reveals as invented, transcripts from a military trial, and verbatim dialogue in which two young people discuss condoms. All of which seems to underline Park's early assertion that 'every memoirist and every historian should begin by reminding their readers that the mere act of writing something down, of organizing something in a line of words, involves a clear betrayal of the truth'. Even more intriguingly, this book seems to be set in a world where social norms have broken down, with references to road blocks and shortages. Though published in 2013 allusions to pandemics and throwaway lines like 'not much information had come out of Russia for a long time' give the book an ominous relevance. And at the end it all seems to tie in to a little known witch cult with an agenda of its own.

Looking back, this book is a remarkable achievement, with a story that goes off in all directions and yet never seems to lose its way. The author takes risks with his narrative structure and it pays off gloriously, with family history and apocalyptic fiction entangling and fertilising each other. It definitely won't find much of an audience with the beginning, middle and end brigade, and even sympathetic readers probably won't get everything from a single exposure (I certainly didn't). Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance is the sort of book where you feel you should write notes as you go along, but at the same time a book you don't want to examine too closely in case the magic disappears. Highly recommended.






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