“Spirits and Wine” by MSU graduate Susan Newhof (University of Michigan Press, $24) is a spooky, unusual book that’s hard to simply classify.
It’s a ghost story, a mystery, a tale of personal growth and more. It showcases John and Anna, a recently married couple, who buy an old farmhouse in Carlston, a small, fictional Western Michigan lakeshore town.
The old house is charming but needs considerable work; that’s only part of the problem. While the couple is initially skeptical, they soon discover that there are unseen, disquieting spirits in the house.
John is in the wine business, which requires him to fly off to service accounts on a regular basis. Anna busies herself with the house restoration, but she is strangely attracted to gardening, which hadn’t interested her before.
She can’t recall her actions for periods of time and has other challenges; John becomes more frustrated as they try to figure out what’s going on.
Their investigation into the past occupants of the house turns up unnerving information. During the Spanish flu influenza of 1918-19, the owners of the house died, but there are still many questions about the younger children in the family.
Anna falls seriously ill; they worry about the spirit’s possessiveness and get unexpected help from a Grand Rapids café owner.
The plot gets more convoluted from there, but Newhof spins a highly entertaining tale, told in tandem viewpoints of Anna and John.
In a search for more information, the couple issues a press release; a resulting outstate journey raises other concerns which may change their lives forever.
Newhof notes in a press interview that the intriguing novel took 13 years for her to write. It started when she and her husband bought an old farmhouse in Montague MI. She states “Many of the things that happened in this story are based on events that happened in our lives and based on things that happened in the house.”
While “Spirits and Wine” is only 168 pages long, it is a carefully crafted, compelling tale filled with strong-willed characters and a satisfying conclusion.
This is the first novel for Newhof, the author of the popular guide series “Michigan’s Town and Country Inns”, but she is working on another.
Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop,
has reviewed Michigan books and crime novels regularly since 1987.
This review was originally published by the
Lansing State Journal on October 30, 2011.