Gabriel Rackett stands at the threshold of middle age. He lives north of Chicago and teaches at a small community college. He has written one novel and has no prospects of writing another, his powers stagnated by drink and loss. Into his possession comes a manuscript, written by a childhood friend and neighbor, which ignites his memory and takes him back to his mysterious mentor and the ghosts that haunted his own coming of age. Now, at the ebb of his resources, Gabriel returns to his old haunts through a series of fantastic stories spilling dangerously off the page--tales that will preoccupy and pursue him back to their dark and secret sources.
Thirteen-year-old Gabriel Rackett befriends the mysterious Trajan Bell, son of the local shut-in, who has come home to take care of his ailing mother. Years later, when Gabriel is middle-aged, a writer of one novel, and an alcoholic, he still thinks of Trajan, and the cryptic and poetic manuscript he left behind. What starts as a classic coming-of-age story becomes a tale of obsession (though, given how infrequently Gabriel and Trajan actually interact, we're not sure why). There's a ghost in here too, but the ghost story is confusing and feels out of place. Trajan's own writings which allude to the ghost story are included with mixed effect, as are the descriptions of Gabriel writing Dracia, his Lord of the Rings-inspired novel. Known for his numerous Dragonlace novels, Williams's writing here is vague, heavy handed, and often predictable, and his blending of the past and present kills much of the suspense. A fictional review of Gabriel's novel sums Williams's book the best: "An elaborate, eccentric book...maddening in its fragmentation, obscurity, and slow-moving plot."