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Posted March 28, 2009
Time travel is not a new topic for novels, poetry or film or even the visual arts. The concept of second chances if only one or two aspects of events of history were altered is the stuff of dreams: every reader will relate to the 'what if' setting of Sean K. Murphy's fine first work, the novella THE SPIRIT MAN. But what Murphy does with this technique of providing a character with a return to the past to mend problems that resulted in an altered life of anxious regret is the talisman of a fine story teller: he propels his tale with enough twists and turns, discoveries, and realizations that the reader is compelled to run with him to the surprising end.
The plot is one of an encounter in a stopover in Arizona where one Johnny, living a life driven by attention to business rather than emotion, pauses to mend his car and encounters a Native American 'spirit man' Huber who provides him with the means of returning to an emotional explosion twenty years ago when Johnny's behavior and choices resulted in the accidental death of his high school girlfriend and the end of his 'dream life'. How Murphy manages to make this time warp trip seem so natural and so filled with realignment of the negative aspects of the past with the 'informed' changes Johnny is allowed to make given his twenty years of living life in a fashion that has been unsatisfying is what allows THE SPIRIT MAN to succeed. For example, returning to a high school history class Johnny has the courage to say 'Sure, there are a lot of things wrong and a lot of things that I wish could be different. The luck in this world isn't equal; it should be. Yet still we keep learning and growing and finding ways to make life better, almost everyone's life. You talk about history. It's knowing history that leaves us better equipped to deal with the problems that progress brings'.
Sean K. Murphy has learned the value of brevity, of character shaping, and of leaving all angles of a story resolved - even as he quietly invites the reader to identify with some solid concepts. It would appear there is a fine new artist on the literary scene, and one from whom a longer novel would be mot welcome. Grady Harp