I’ve been re-reading one of the more interesting books I’ve ever encountered.

Summer of the Ubume by Natsuhiko Kyogoku is a supernatural detective story…sort of. It is a mystery and it is about the supernatural, but maybe not in the way that you’ve seen it done before. And every time I read or think about this book again, it makes me excited to write something.

The book opens with a very lengthy, but very important conversation. It’s…almost like a dialectic. You know, like philosophers used to do in books of philosophy? (Sometimes philosophers still do that, it just fell out of favor because…you know what, doesn’t matter, anyway!) A writer and a used book store owner argue about the finer points of existence, ultimately coming around to the nature of the supernatural. This is key to understanding anything else that happens in this book.

The general theory is that:

  1. The Supernatural is real and that
  2. The Supernatural does not exist

Now, hang on, I hear you saying, that’s a list of only two things and they are contradictory things to boot! Well, yes and no. You see, the supernatural is real to us and we then make them “real” through a combination of deeply ingrained folkloric belief, suggestable memory, mass hallucination, psychosomatic symptoms, and confirmation bias. But if you were to set up a camera in a haunted house for 100 years, it would never capture even one ghost for the very important fact that cameras do not believe in ghosts. They have no conception of ghosts at all.

This dialectic goes on for some time and I won’t repeat all its main points, but needless to say, they cover a lot of ground. This idea that the supernatural could be meaningfully real to human beings while still not existing in any physical science sense at all is not only deeply fascinating, but feels right.

I have had some very odd circumstances happen to me in my life. I grew up in what my whole family considered to be a haunted house. And one of those people was a computer scientist, not exactly the sort of person who immediately goes, “Yep, ghosts.” I’ve encountered some truly inexplicable things out in the woods of Washington State. In college, I even used this as an icebreaker of sorts. I’d invite people to tell me about the weirdest, most surreal thing that had ever happened to them.

Some of them were almost certainly lies. You could always spot the liars. Their stories were story-shaped. They had a beginning, middle, and most of all, a satisfying ending. “Real” supernatural encounters are not like that. Something totally unbelievable crashes down around you like a wave and then recedes again leaving you to go, “What the hell was that about?!” And you never find out. There’s no secret book in your town’s library explaining why it happened, you’ll never find out that someone was secretly murdered in your house, you don’t discover an ancient ritual that breaks the curse. It just happens and then…you learn to live with not understanding what happened to you. Ever.

Even with people making stuff up to sound cool, a shocking number of people have had at least one thing happen to them that simply cannot be squared with their understanding of reality. At least, in my admittedly limited time sampling this question from the public, it seemed so. I find this so interesting because of how very rational we purport our world and worldview to be. If it were so, it feels like there should be less of these credible little holes in our collective knowledge. And yet…

This is part of why I developed an interest in the occult from a fairly young age. It was deeply practical magic. When you share your house with monsters, no matter how they came to be there, you go looking for tools to restrain and combat them. I wanted to learn spells that could help me sleep more comfortably at night. And I learned a lot more than that in the process. The results of which certainly do not exist…but they can be quite real. A good night’s sleep is real AF.

I won’t spoil where this book goes from the end of its dialectic, but needless to say there is something very real that doesn’t exist at the heart of the mystery they have to solve. And that mystery hides some terrible secrets that both do exist and are tragically real. Tragedy often demands ghosts. Something about how our minds work believes that nothing so terrible could ever happen without it marking the world for the worse…maybe forever?

But what really excites me about this book is how it points to undiscovered countries in writing, how there could still be truly unthought of new ways to bring familiar elements together in a story. That’s true in the sense of it’s content, but also true in what it does within genre. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy…

That’s the thought this week, kiddos. As always, if you’ve read this far down, I love you very much for having stopped to read what I have to say. Remember to tend to your dreams. If you don’t, who will?

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