Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day is a standalone novella by Seanan McGuire who is one of my favorite writers. I love her work and I recommend it every chance I get. But even with all that, this novella hit me in a very different way than most of her novels do. I can’t be objective about this novella, I just can’t. It completely and utterly wrecked me and left me a sobbing mess on my couch last night. Yesterday morning I got an email from Amazon letting me know that a new Seanan McGuire novella was available for purchase, and while I’m normally pretty good about keeping up with what she’s releasing this one came as a complete, and pleasant, surprise. I immediately purchased it and went on with my morning routine. Awesome day, new McGuire! It wasn’t till I started reading it that I began to wonder if maybe, maybe this was written as a tribute to someone, and the more I read the more it seemed likely. I don’t know if it was written in memorium, but I certainly read it that way. I had to put the book down a few times to cry and when it ended I sobbed for a good ten minutes. This means that despite some flaws this book gets five stars for being the cathartic release I didn’t know I needed.
Let me explain a bit. On November 9th (possibly the 10th), while reeling from the US election results, I was checking twitter and noticed that a few of the authors I follow, including McGuire, were talking about how they were available if anyone ever needed to talk and that suicide wasn’t the answer. I did a little more digging and found out that they were in mourning for someone who had committed suicide. Which was terribly sad, and I sympathized. And then, either the next day or just a few hours later (the timeline is honestly a little screwy in my head) I found out who it was, and I felt unexpectedly shattered. It was someone I knew- mostly through the internet but someone I had met a few times and I just felt the loss keenly. Fast forward two and a half/three months and McGuire releases a novella where her ghost main character volunteers at a suicide prevention hotline and does older cat rescue, and a few other details that just reminded me of this woman. So again, I don’t know if McGuire wrote the novel as a tribute to Abby (obviously three months is a very short time to write, edit, and publish a novella), but I read it as a tribute to her and the book became the spark I needed to really let myself grieve for her.
Obviously, your reaction to the book will be different so let me see if I can give you a more helpful review. The main character, Jenna, is a ghost. She died shortly after her sister committed suicide, but Patty (the sister) isn’t a ghost because she died when her time was up. Jenna’s death was premature and she still has years to remain on the planet. Unfortunately ghosts don’t experience time the way that the living do, and so unless they take the time (not steal an hour from you so you’ll age suddenly, but take an hour from your death, essentially giving you longer life) from the living, they remain here unchanging. Jenna is unwilling to take the time unless she earns it and so she volunteers at a suicide prevention hotline in New York City among other things. And then one day all the ghosts in the city go missing and she, along with a corn witch, have to find out why.
There are flaws in the story for sure. There is a long, long info dump about how the world works and the rules surround ghosts and witches. It didn’t bother me but I know it does bother some. The story itself is a bit disjointed, with some sections of it feeling connected to the others only by the very thinnest of strands. It works though, and so I forgive it.
People aren’t so good at being good to one another. We try hard enough, but something essential was left out in the making of us, some hard little patch of stone in the fertile soil that’s supposed to be our hearts. We get hung up on the bad, and we focus on it until it grows, and the whole crop is lost.
And this one:
These days, everyone wants to eat, but no one wants to take the time and care needed to coax the land into giving up its glories. People don’t change. We’re always selfish, and we’re always hungry. We’ve just gotten better at looking at greed and saying ‘Oh, that’s self-interest, that’s all right.’ We’ve forgotten the way the word ‘enough’ feels on the tongue.
As I said, I can’t be objective. But yes, I think you should read this one.