Historical, yes, but with
BY DONNA SEAMAN
The combination of fact and imagination is what makes historical fiction compelling and enlightening. This union of opposites seduces readers into learning about historical events and figures by offering all the psychological
richness and narrative excitement of storytelling. But a select
group of novelists has taken this blend of accuracy and interpretation to higher levels of invention, leaping into the realms
of the mystic, the ghostly, and the utterly fantastic.
This form of haunted and otherworldly historical fiction
rises and falls in popularity over time. We are currently experiencing a dazzling upsurge, perhaps in response to an
increasingly surreal world.
The Accursed. By Joyce Carol Oates.
2013. Ecco, $27.99 (9780062231703).
In this extravagantly imaginative, darkly
humorous, and blistering fusion of historical fact, supernatural mystery, and
devilish social commentary—all spiraling
out from a lynching—Oates matches such
historical figures as Woodrow Wilson,
Mark Twain, and Jack London with invented human characters as well as ghosts,
vampires, and demons.
Beloved. By Toni Morrison. 1987.
Vintage, $16 (9781400033416).
In Morrison’s masterpiece, the horrors
of America’s Civil War era are rendered
universally and endlessly tragic as Sethe
escapes slavery and flees to the free state of
Ohio only to remain in chains psychically
haunted by the ghost of her baby.
Changó’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes.
By William Kennedy. 2011. Penguin, $16
Kennedy’s celebrated Albany Cycle,
which includes Ironweed (1983) and
Roscoe (2002), blends history with strands of
magic realism and ghostly interludes. In
this enrapturing tale of bloody quests for
justice and equality, and the gamble of
love, Quinn, an American reporter, marries
Cuban revolutionary Renata in her homeland, after which they end up in Albany in
1968, when racial tension is on the boil.
The Daylight Gate. By Jeanette
Winterson. 2013. Grove, $24
The always provocative and innovative
Winterson presents an eviscerating varia-
tion on the epochal 1612 English witch