There have been millions of ghost stories told over the course of human history. Polls find that even in modern, enlightened America, as much as half the populace believes in phantoms, spirits and other manifestations of the undead. But consider this: If even one ghost story proved, beyond any reasonable doubt, to be real, to be true — if the idea of the deceased walking and moaning again among the living was established as fact — world civilization would promptly and collectively freak … the fuck … out.
George Dalphin explores this scenario in his entertaining, if uneven, “death-comedy” novel, Bob Wacszowski, Necromancer.
Bob is a 31-year-old, unemployed schlub from Muncie who accidentally acquires the power to raise and command the dead. He and his buddies bring a graveyard full of skeletons back to life, and soon must grapple with the hysteria that erupts all around them.
The plot follows Bob’s bumbling attempts to master necromancy, reunite with his estranged girlfriend, Anna, and convince the terrified world his intentions are good. His initial plan is to contract the skeletons out as a construction crew (ha!), but their very existence causes a panic that swiftly brings society to its knees.
The funniest scenes play out early on. A mob of horrified, hostile Hoosiers descend on Bob’s house, prompting him to form a protective circle of skeletons. A crazy priest who professes to understand the magic Bob is wielding absconds with Anna, who’s more annoyed than awestruck by her boyfriend’s new powers. Determined to get her back, Bob and his pals, along with a sympathetic cop, travel through Muncie surrounded by their corpse posse, who jog along on their boney feet like a zombie security detail.
Dalphin, the subject of a 2009 profile in The Bollard, is a remarkably prolific writer, musician, visual artist and filmmaker. His energy is impressive, but with this project, his second novel, he’s bitten off more material than his chops as a novelist can chew.
By its midpoint, the story is attempting to juggle the global media, military, political and religious reactions to Bob and his skeletons; the muddy metaphysics behind Bob’s powers (Atlantis, extra-dimensional demons, etc.); and all the griping and in-fighting that takes place among the crew, which eventually grows to include Father Zenoc, the priest who kidnapped Anna.
This bickering bogs down the plot without adding much to the characters’ development. There’s richer material to mine, like the way the government and the military view Bob’s dabbling with the undead as justification to wage a holy war. The magic book Bob stumbled upon has a lot of different types of spells, and Bob unleashes several of them, but it feels like neither the character not the author knows what to do with all this potential.
That’s partly by design. Two more Bob Wacszowski novels are apparently in the works, by which time Bob will have likely read and mastered the contents of his magic tome. If Dalphin’s storytelling skills catch up with his ambition, he’ll be a writer worth reading well into the future.
— Chris Busby
For more on Dalphin and his projects, visit man-likemachines.com.