THE PHANTOM CIRCUIT

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Erica Westfield faces a string of daily challenges. She’s run ragged driving for Lyft and otherwise underemployed. Her life is cast in the shadow of her “international superstar” sister, Dianne, a famous singer. But then, during a routine assignment, Erica discovers that Dianne is dead (“I was driving on the Interstate 5, finishing up my last ride, when I heard my passenger casually mention that the police had found Dianne’s body”). Soon, the lost and grieving Erica receives a ghostly message from Dianne’s Facebook Messenger account. This event jump-starts a mystery that will launch Erica from one plane to another: a journey to a cybermirror realm where the ghostly presences of Macy Abigayle, who died on the Oregon Trail in the 1800s, and the sinister Bloody Mary are entrapped. To save Macy and herself, Erica must dive into the mirrors and confront her memories of her sister and their childhood battles and Bloody Mary. The premise is both eerie and intriguing, a phantom message calling out from a deceased sibling’s account. But in practice, the tale is quite convoluted and bizarre. Farmer tries to explain the logistics of the plot, the location of the mirror realm, and the menacing nature of Bloody Mary, but the novel ultimately comes off as a bit exhausting. The excitement conjured by such an original idea for a story is drained after clichéd passages pop up throughout the book, such as “I stared into the void. It stared back at me” (the mirror realm is also called “the void”); “Some monsters are born. Other monsters are created”; and “My life flashed before my eyes” before, repeatedly, also flashing “over and over again.” These phrases do little to flesh out the captivating elements of this mysterious realm. The author’s worldbuilding is hampered by the elegant but meaningless images of infinite reflections, and the riddle “is…and is not.” Farmer is an exceptionally ambitious writer. But this project is perhaps too unwieldy even for the most impressive author’s pen.

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