Sunday, June 23, 2024

Speaking The Language of Ghosts: A Review Of Apparitions by Adam Pottle

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Apparitions is a horror novel written by Adam Pottle arriving from Dark Hart Books on September 19, 2023. Though the use of ghost imagery is prevalent, it is not a paranormal read. There is no supernatural evil here. Instead, it is language, or lack thereof, that haunts these pages. This kind of horror is terrifying because it is real. This is a fictional memoir–not quite autofiction–that follows our unnamed Deaf narrator through multiple stages of his life.

Before we dive in, I want to address two things:
First, I am not Deaf. I do not sign. I do have Deaf family, and I am learning Sign Language, but this in no way authorizes me to speak for the Deaf community. I bring this up at the start because this is vital to how I experienced the book. Adam Pottle is Deaf. If you want to learn more, he has a book called Voice that is available on Kindle here.

Adam Pottle, author of Apparitions, from the Bio on his website.

Secondly, this is a heavy book. The publisher has provided me with this list of trigger/content warnings: Institutional, family, and religious abuse in the name of ableism, extreme violence and terror, animal cruelty, discussions of colonial violence, sexual assault, homophobia, psychological manipulation, family dysfunction, drug abuse, isolation and extreme loneliness, and court testimony. Please read safely.

Apparitions by Adam Pottle Cover
Apparitions by Adam Pottle Cover

As the author’s note states in the beginning, time is not linear in this book. It cannot be linear for our narrator, because time is not something he can understand. His experiences and lack of access to language have caused him to live in multiple times at once. The boundaries between memory and reality have blurred. This unreality creates one of the main aspects of horror. Our narrator has found himself in an eldritch existence. He does not understand or have words for what he sees. But he knows he is haunted. He knows he is scared. He knows he should run.

Run he does, but he doesn’t find safety. In a twist of the trope, reaching civilization, reaching a hospital, is not the end. It is just another start. Because our narrator cannot hear, cannot speak, he cannot advocate for himself. He cannot seek help. The only communication he understands is violence. His outbursts, confused–terrified, lead him to be institutionalized. His time there is still haunted. But more than anything, it is tragedy. Because it is there that he learns to sign.

This is the true horror of this story, at least to me. Learning to sign, finding community; these should have been beautiful things. Something joyous, something to celebrate. But his teacher is a deeply troubled young man. Writer and linguist Amanda Montell wrote an entire book (Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism) on the way language is used to manipulate others. I read this book a few months back, and I’m glad I did, because she illustrates a point I want to discuss:

“A linguistic concept called the theory of performativity says that language does not simply describe or reflect who we are, it creates who we are.”

Amanda Montell, Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism

Felix Jimson, our narrator’s teacher, creates reality. He even gives our narrator a name. (Sign names can only be given by someone in the Deaf community, and Felix is Deaf too.) This creates a deep bond, even love, between the two boys. At least, in a way it does. The power dynamic between Felix and the narrator is too treacherous for love. After all, our narrator only understands love based on what Felix says it is. Felix has his own trauma, and a very firm belief that he is at the center of religious truth.

But no matter his actions, I struggle to call Felix a villain. This book showcases two traumatized boys trying to survive in a world that was not built for them to thrive. That is not to say this is a book without villains. There will be people in this book who prove that sometimes that worst monsters are human. It will break your heart. It will enrage you. But all that aside… it may just give you hope.

Thank you to Adam Pottle and the team at Dark Hart Books for this incredible gift of a book. Apparitions hits shelves on September 19, 2023. You can buy directly from the publisher here.

Images courtesy of Dark Hart Books and Adam Pottle.

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