“Ill-Mannered Ghosts,” by Nicole Sarrocco

Nicole Sarrocco

Reviewed by Bestsy Randolph

Nicole Sarrocco’s Ill-Mannered Ghosts is literary fiction at its finest. Sarrocco manages to combine verisimilitude (she herself claims to have seen ghosts) and the paranormal in a freakishly awesome effort to render the semi-credible story of a southern woman (her sometimes real self) who has the uncanny ability to see, hear, and experience things that most “normal” people do not.

This gothic tale of weirdness and the occult—which purports to be “occasionally true”—blurs fantasy and reality in the most mundane places. Like when “ectoplasm” appears on the kitchen counter, as though the ghostly cast-off materializes out of nowhere at four o’clock every day for no other reason than to mess with Nicole’s head.

Yet Nicole readily admits she’s the mother of a four-year-old, and the mysterious liquid-like substance could be just Kool-aide.  But, no, it is not. It’s ectoplasm, that green glow-in-the-dark goo from “Ghost Busters” that makes us doubt the origins of the unexplained substances we find on our own kitchen counters.

Sarrocco’s use of traditional literary devices—including her rank hyperbole whenever she allegedly encounters ghosts, demons, and spirits—and her blurring of fiction and reality (think magical realism on steroids) enhance her wild story and enable her to spotlight her own flamboyant idiosyncrasies.

When she runs into a spirit in a narrow isle at Trader Joes, she tries to explain the situation to her husband, Thomas, claiming that, most likely, she saw the ghost among the other 5,000 people who were coming in or leaving the store.

Sarrocco is hilarious, fun, and clever. When she describes her mother’s inability to see the “bad” in people, she relates how her father called her mother and ran the “Nigerian Businessman scheme” on her. She says of her mom, in another humorous moment, “She’s bullshit-blind. She can’t see it piling up when people are talking. She just dances along to the beat of their shitsongs. She thinks there’s a pony under all of it someplace.”

Sarrocco juxtaposes her outrageous experiences as a child and as a grown woman. She likens a trip to Trader Joes to “shooting up heroin for the first time.” Her ghostly tale is characterized by a quirky, stream-of-consciousness style with a free-flowing effervescence of sound and the occasional sassy southern pun.

This stand-alone novel is book two in a curious trilogy about facing past demons with wit and courage. Sarrocco was raised on a tobacco farm on the Wake-Johnston County line. A high-school teacher and the author of the Occasionally True series, she lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with her husband and two children. I’ll Mannered Ghosts was published in 2016 by Chatwin Books.

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