Modern American culture has a rich tradition of ghost stories centered around the highways and lesser roadways. Many of the best, if not actually horror stories, verge on horror, such as the teenage girl trying to get home who gets picked alongside the highway by a stranger who drives to a certain address only to discover she died years ago on that date.
Seanan McGuire decided to tell her own ghost story in Sparrow Hill Road which, like her novel Indexing, was originally a series of short stories published through The Edge of Propinquity, starting in January of 2010 and ending in December of that year. It appears they’ve been somewhat revised for this telling of her ghostly narrator’s tale but I can’t say how much as I’ve not read the original versions.
This is the story of Rose Marshall, who was the first victim of the man called Bobby Cross, although she was unfortunately not his last. Bobby killed her on Rose’s way to her senior prom by driving her off the side of Sparrow Hill Road. Unlike most dead, she didn’t pass on to whatever comes next but rather lives on—both in the ghost roads that exist between the living and the great unknown, and in the mortal world. In the latter, if she’s hitchhiking as a ghost, someone sees her standing there, picks her up, and give her their jacket as she always looks cold, she becomes flesh for a while. As she says, ‘The best thing about having a jacket is the way it makes me live again, at least until the sun comes up the next morning—dawn to dawn, that’s the longest a borrowed life can last.’
By not leaving, Rose has stayed for sixty years, becoming a legend amond the living and the dead. Every so often, she hitches a ride home, disappearing when her ride pulls into the driveway of her once home, leaving a jacket on the seat where she was a moment in time ago. And she aids some newly dead who end up on the ghostroads after falling prey to Bobby Cross and the other nasties out there. And there are diners along the ghostroads:
They have good beer here, these routewitches do, and their grill is properly aged, old grease caught in the corners, the drippings of a hundred thousand steaks and bacon breakfasts and cheeseburgers scraped from a can and used to slick it down before anything starts cooking. The plate they bring me groans under a triple-decker cheeseburger and a pile of golden fries that smell like summer nights and stolen kisses—and they smell, even before the platter hits the table.
Patch-up novels usually don’t work for me but this one does quite brilliantly—I can’t see where it’s been stitched together from its original separate pieces at all. It’s the best ghost story I’ve read in a very long while and certainly Sparrow Hill Road will be one novel that I read again. And no, I’m not telling you any of the story beyond what I’ve said above as that would spoil you learning it for yourself!
Oh, I should mention before I leave you that the author, who is herself a musician, notes that ‘Music plays a large part in the story of Rose Marshall, and Rose herself has been the topic of several songs … some more accurate than others.’ All the songs, I believe, have been recorded by McGuire.