cover image Madeleine's Ghost

Madeleine's Ghost

Robert Girardi. Delacorte Press, $21.95 (356pp) ISBN 978-0-385-31482-4

In a first novel of astonishing accomplishment, Girardi by turns portrays spooks, erotic love, muggers, Romanian mediums and the Catholic church with startlingly few slips and a shimmering style. A first-person account by Ned Conti, a graduate student in French history deeply involved in not writing his dissertation, the novel moves between New York and New Orleans, past and present, this side and ``the other side'' of death. Ned is languishing in a dangerous Brooklyn neighborhood, in an apartment haunted by an aggressive ghost (whose tricks include dropping stones from the ceiling) when, broke, he starts work as a researcher for a local Catholic priest who is hoping to spur the canonization of a 19th-century American nun. Soon, the forces of spirituality and history converge on Ned until he is almost painfully overburdened with mystery. When the suicide of a close friend pushes him to visit Antoinette, his Creole ex-girlfriend in Louisiana, Ned begins to sense that a New Orleans plantation family may hold a clue to his researches. The connections among ghost, saint and Antoinette, are wrapped up a bit too tidily, but Girardi drives his tale along with sensuous prose. The resonance with which he captures the gritty material world of New Orleans and the East Village provides a sturdy, credible spine on which to hang Ned's clash with the strange world of spirits. (July)