Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews Seeing Things by Sonora Taylor.
About a year ago, I reviewed Sonora Taylor’s short story collection Little Paranoias. She has a crisp and concise style that I was immediately drawn to, but there were stories in that collection that seemed to end too soon. While I read through it, I wanted to see her fully dive into a single story and completely explore all the possibilities. So, when I saw she had a new novel, Seeing Things, coming out, I was excited to give it a read and get a taste of some long-form Taylor.
Abby, a seventh grader, suddenly sees a bloodied and eyeless girl banging around inside a locker at school. Like anyone would, Abby rushes to the office to get an adult to help with the situation. Only, there isn’t a situation. No one else can see the girl. From there, she begins seeing trails of blood all over the place—strewn across the floor, dripping down the walls, and festering on the fronts of houses—as well as multiple other ghosts. She must content herself with the fact that no one else can see the ghosts and, effectively, no one will believe that she can see them.
It’s an isolating gift that Abby’s found herself with, but she doesn’t see any other way to move forward other than keeping it to herself. To get her mind off this new development, she wants to visit her uncle for the summer. Her parents are nervous to drop her off with him because he’d recently been fired, and his long-time girlfriend left him. They compromise and Abby gets a week away to help fix his house. And that’s when we learn how deep the mystery of her supernatural gift goes and what responsibilities come with it.
Sonora Taylor writes in a clean and clear way, which works to her benefit when she’s describing scary scenes.
Sonora Taylor writes in a clean and clear way, which works to her benefit when she’s describing scary scenes, like an eyeless ghost trapped in a locker or a group of ghost children with their throats slit. She writes these moments in an objective way, allowing all my emotions to get tangled up with the images she’s portraying. This is a horror book, so it’s good to have these shots of gore that are off-putting and really horrifying. They help add and complement to the mysteries surrounding the different deaths and disappearances found in Seeing Things. The premise is interesting not only because she can see these ghosts, but because these mangled entities refuse to talk to her. The grounded descriptions work in tandem with the supernatural concepts, creating a nice well-rounded approach to the story as a whole.
At the end of Seeing Things, there is a major bombshell dropped on the characters. We find out why the ghosts refuse to talk to her, which gives us a hint as to what lies on the horizon. The way Taylor had set things up, building towards the climax, was compelling, authentic, and true to the story, but in the end, the story felt like it was cut short. I wanted to spend more time with Abby and her family to see how they processed the information they were given. It’s a moment that presents intriguing character shifts and motivations, but instead of delving deeper in, we got surface-level reactions and then moved on to the conclusion. So, again, my biggest gripe was that I wish there was more story.
Seeing Things is a brisk novel, coming in right around 180 pages. The story and characters are engaging and I was happy to spend a few hours with them, even if they were exploring their own grief and emotional turmoil—things that shouldn’t necessarily be a joy to read (but as a big Stephen King fan, and knowing the horror fanbase out there, this is what some of us live for). There are moments that felt overly plotted, but this book isn’t necessarily trying to create a new genre. Seeing Things is solidly in the horror camp and it faithfully follows some of those tropes to give us something tried and true.