"Smithy" Book Review
Written by Sean M. Sandford
Published by Inkshares
Written by Amanda Desiree
2021, 500 pages, Fiction
Released on April 27th, 2021
Newport, Rhode Island. I’ve been told it’s a place of wonderment. A beauteous getaway where the Haves once embellished the periphery of the Have-nots. But that was then, and things change. Newport is where Amanda Desiree’s Smithy brings us, amongst decrepit renditions of a once-bountiful time. Where the richest of the rich had been able to erect whimsical mansions by the water. But as even the most beautiful flowers are wont to wilt, Smithy takes us to the same mansions in the 20th century, where we are met instead with abundance’s rotting corpses. It’s also the mid-‘70s, a time when some aspects of youthful culture have begun to notice that life doesn’t always resemble its goals.
Smithy, first dubbed Webster, is a young chimpanzee who has become the subject of a psychological research experiment. Webster has shown an aptitude for sign language. “Koco? Pshaw.” Such is the demeanor of Dr. Preis-Herald, head of the Webster project in which he aims to show that chimps have communicative capabilities much closer to humans than anyone had supposed. He hires a group of academic students and psychologists to work with Webster to teach him some of the multiplicities of human language. They are to conduct their practices at Trevor Hall, an abandoned mansion in Newport with a tattered and mysterious history.
Trevor Hall is where we meet the team of young students: Gail, Tammy, Ruby, Eric, Jeff, and Wanda, second in command behind Preis-Herald. They are quite the varied crew of researchers and psychologists who are to live with Webster in the decayed mansion and commit themselves to extensive academia over said chimp. Did I mention Trevor Hall is all kinds of haunted?
Oh, the foliage we reap when sowing seeds in haunted mansions. Smithy tells the tale of such fruits in an elaborate and detailed scheme that brings depth, compassion, and a real feeling of closeness to its characters. Amanda Desiree tells her tale through a variety of mediums, including letters, diaries, and transcripts, giving a very personal depiction of her characters and their thoughts and feelings throughout.
One of the themes addressed from the get is that of interaction. Such is likely to surface where folks are researching a chimp’s potential to use sign language, but this tale introduces discussion as the foundational relationship for everyone involved in the project. The story uses communication as a vessel for foreshadowing. Like the title, Smithy. The students start calling Webster Smithy as an endearing nickname, short for Wordsmith. It is discussed whether incorrect discourse is still to be considered correspondence so long as it expresses an idea. Is it okay to call the chimp Smithy, a name he responds to, when his official name is Webster? They decide it is, and such remains his moniker throughout the novel.
When they begin to realize that their new home has a phantasmal tenant, this idea of communication foreshadows the contact of the manor’s ghost with the students. And more so to Smithy himself, who is the first one to see the ghost and respond to her. Thus welcomes a desire for the students to better understand who the ghost is, why she is there, and what she may be trying to say to them. For one, they have trouble deciding if the ghost is trying to speak to them or harm them.
Smithy explores many themes beyond the paranormal. I often found myself feeling like I was reading a drama rather than your typical whispers-in-the-wind horror story. The ghost (or ghosts) come to represent more about the living than they do about the dead. Like the sexist undertones to Preis-Herald’s countenance, and an underlying theme of parenthood and child-rearing.
All I know is that upon finishing Smithy I had become very close with its characters; having heard each of their voices throughout the story, I felt like I knew every one of them. Desiree does an incredible job painting each pull of the characters’ strings, and the emotions they go through on their journey, including Smithy himself. A story rife with interpretation, mystery, and damn good storytelling, I enjoyed my time with this novel, and look forward to more books from Amanda Desiree.
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