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Book Review: Spook Light Chronicles Vol. 3


Book Review Spook Light Chronicles Vol. 3: We Always Lie to Strangers By Lara Shipley and Antone Dolezal Reviewed by Colin Pantall “I guess I keep coming back out here for something. For the life of me I don’t know what.” –from the start of the first volume of Lara Shipley and Antone Dolezal’s Spook Light Chronicles
By the end of that volume, the question is answered.

Spook Light Chronicles Vol. 3: We Always Lie to Strangers.
By Lara Shipley and Antone Dolezal, Search Party Press, 2014.
 
The Spook Light Chronicles: Thankful for a chance to say goodbye
A review by Colin Pantall

Spook Light Chronicles Vol. 3: We Always Lie to Strangers
Photographs by Lara Shipley and Antone Dolezal.
Search Party Press, 2014. 60 pp., 52 color illustrations, 7x9".


“I guess I keep coming back out here for something. For the life of me I don’t know what.” –from the start of the first volume of Lara Shipley and Antone Dolezal’s Spook Light Chronicles

By the end of that volume, the question is answered. The reason she or he keeps coming back to the dark woods of the Ozarks is the Spook Light, a light that comes out at night to haunt the locals. What is this Spook Light? Is it a natural, man-made or supernatural phenomenon? Is the mysterious light that floats along the Bible Belt hotspot of Devil’s Promenade really Satan in disguise, or is it car lights from Route 66 reflected through the forests and the glades, or is it a manifestation of the spiritual baggage that weighs so heavy on the few souls who live in this isolated corner of the United States?

Spook Light Chronicles Vol. 3: We Always Lie to StrangersBy Lara Shipley and Antone Dolezal, Search Party Press, 2014.

The story of the Spook Light is the subject of The Road and the Light, the first volume of the Spook Light Chronicles and it’s a story told beautifully using multiple voices, contemporary images and all kinds of archive material that may or may not be as old or authentic as they seem.

The second volume is called The Phosphorescent Man; it tells the story of the industry that has built up around the Spook Light, the museums and guides who sell its story to gullible incomers. These guides who hover between fact, fiction and fabrication in their attempts to make a hard-earned buck. But beneath the myths and the legends looms a disturbing fact; that perhaps the Spook Light is real, that this soul-sucking light really is the devil made light.

Spook Light Chronicles Vol. 3: We Always Lie to StrangersBy Lara Shipley and Antone Dolezal, Search Party Press, 2014.

The final volume, We Always Lie to Strangers brings us to the present and ties up the loose ends in a form where myth becomes documentary, and documentary becomes myth. There are eight short texts accompanied by an illustrative series of images that build up into an over reaching narrative of a land where loyalties, customs and beliefs have roots in something that goes deeper than the soil. It’s a fiction that is a documentary; it tells the story of the soul of the landscape, of what it feels like to be here, to live here, to belong here. And it does it in a most engaging manner. Reading through these three volumes, one is not weighed down with the labor of making sense of it all. It’s smart, sharp and human. It’s a proper story, in other words, a story that is beautifully told through both words and pictures.

“This country used to be full of lights,” the final volume begins. “Seemed like every town had one, and not just lights but other strange things… Now you don’t hear about that stuff anymore. Most of the towns are gone and the lights and everything else gone with them.”

Spook Light Chronicles Vol. 3: We Always Lie to StrangersBy Lara Shipley and Antone Dolezal, Search Party Press, 2014.

So it’s a story of dereliction and emptiness. The lights might be gone, but there’s a feeling that there’s a vacancy in this lonely meeting place of Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. We see Chris from Arizona on a derelict basketball court. He’s an outsider because he wasn’t born there and he’s sweeping the court in the hope that he’ll turn the “…cracked and overgrown basketball court into a skate park. He dreams that when it’s finished other kids will come, and then he will have friends. He is not yet aware that none of the neighbour kids will know how to skate or will even own boards or care.”

Spook Light Chronicles Vol. 3: We Always Lie to StrangersBy Lara Shipley and Antone Dolezal, Search Party Press, 2014.

Or there’s the Mennonite boy who talks about what it’s like to grow up in this community. He’s asked about Mennonite folk stories, but they don’t have any. “If a Mennonite tells a story,” he says, “then the story is true.” We discover that the boy is happy. He enjoys swimming in the river, but it’s a happiness tinged with melancholy, a closed happiness.

The mix of the fervently religious and the supernatural bubble beneath the surface. We hear of the faceless woman who appears by a river; “…don’t look into her faceless face or you too will be forever gone,” we are warned. And there to tie us back into an Ozarkian reality is Jeannie, a woman who knits masks in her free time. “When she wears one, she is her most comfortable. She can see you, but you can’t see her.”

Spook Light Chronicles Vol. 3: We Always Lie to StrangersBy Lara Shipley and Antone Dolezal, Search Party Press, 2014.

There’s a Bacchanalian dance where a Creedence Clearwater Revival tune sets the crowd alight, a man clutches the breast of a woman who “…for twenty minutes, attempting a line dance, drew a square on the ground with her foot.”

At a thinly attended revival meeting, a chain-shaking preacher lays hands on the swollen leg of Tim, a man who “doesn’t trust doctors” and is scared they will amputate his leg. “You don’t need a doctor,” the preacher tells him. Throughout the book, people are possessed; pulses race and if they’re not praising the lord, they’re beating snakes to death with lead piping and telling their women that they have a “demonic possession.”

And the demons are there; they’re in the faceless woman who appears by the river and they’re in the “Booger Dog,” the hellhound of the Ozarks which “roams the place that connects our world to the other, stealing souls for the underworld.” An old lady tells of how she saw him one night, standing beside the wartime sweetheart who had disappeared three months before. “There was something funny in his gaze – like he was looking both at her and another place simultaneously. It was the last chance she saw him, and she was thankful to the Dog for chance to say goodbye.”—COLIN PANTALL

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COLIN PANTALL is a UK-based writer and photographer. He is a contributing writer for the British Journal of Photography and a Senior Lecturer in Photography at the University of Wales, Newport. http://colinpantall.blogspot.com

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