Author Ruthie Marlenee
This is the spoiler full review of Curse of the Ninth. If you would prefer to stay spoiler free but still want to read about this novel full of the weight of revenge throughout the generations then please visit here.
Thank you so much to author Ruthie Marlenee for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Curse of the Ninth is a story of the relationship between a father and son, one founded in betrayal and revenge. The story is written in two narratives, one of the father in the early 1900s and one of the son approximately 20 years later.
I found the alternating narratives at the beginning of the book a little confusing at first but as I got used to the concepts being presented I became more comfortable with the story telling devices.
The story starts with Doc, the father, married to Phoebe, a concert pianist. We get hints that he has some sort of conflict brewing but we don’t know what yet.
Then there is Charley, the son, who wakes up confused in a Naval base hospital. We do not yet know their relationship to each other.
Throughout the alternating narratives we are introduced to the theme of phowa, a conscious death or transference of consciousness upon death. This theme will become quite important. And you get to add a new word to your vocabulary! At least I did.
We get to know Doc a little and can tell that his long time friend and business partner George may be fixing to betray him in some way. And then Doc is murdered. Was it George? Perhaps.
After this we learn that Charley experiences his father’s memories. At this point in the story it is still a little unclear as to how their relationship works and how it is that Charley can remember something that happened before he was born.
In flashbacks we learn more about Doc and his previous marriage to a woman named Stella. They had a son Leland and two other children. Leland had a piano teacher, Phoebe.
Stella is a horrendous drunk and fires Phoebe out of spite. She believes she is taking Doc’s affections. Although Doc does harbor feelings for Phoebe he never cheated on Stella.
One night, Stella is too drunk to drive but insists on going to the liquor store. Sight challenged Leland offers to drive her so that she doesn’t go out alone. On their way back they get hit by a truck and Leland loses an arm. Without the arm he is destined to a life without his beloved piano.
Wracked with grief over his misfortune Leland shoots himself. Doc will never recover from the wound of his lost child.
After a period of grief has passed Doc and Stella attend a concert where they see Phoebe perform, she is accompanied by George. Doc immediately falls in love with Phoebe all over again.
Phoebe is somewhat of a clairvoyant and wants to convey the message that Leland wants Doc to know that he forgives him. Upon receiving this earth shattering message from the beyond Stella decides it’s finally time for a divorce.
Doc and Stella move to Nevada where divorce is legal at the time. Stella has never gotten sober and is still a sloppy mess of a drunk. They live together just long enough to form residency prior to filing for divorce.
Doc opens a new optometrist office and hires Phoebe as his receptionist. They quickly marry after this development despite Phoebe claiming to be unable to provide children.
She does however become pregnant with baby Charley. During the pregnancy we reach Doc’s murder. Over his dying body Phoebe uses her clairvoyance and knowledge of phowa to guide his spirit to transfer. He ends up in the body of Charley. Two consciousnesses in one baby.
We are now in Charley’s narrative about 19 years later. He is an adult who has long been plagued by his father’s voice in his head. He tells his side of the story up to the present.
Stella had attempted to battle Phoebe over Doc’s estate, things got very messy.
Quickly after the death of Doc Phoebe married George. Both Phoebe and George were largely neglectful of Charley, at least in his opinion.
With the messy estate battle one of Doc’s other colleagues, Jack, becomes an important figure. He forged documents claiming to be the inheritor of Doc’s office. Phoebe wants to fight it but George talks her out of it.
Charley learns at a young age that he has a natural talent for the piano, this finally wins his mother’s attentions. This is also when both Charley and Phoebe put the pieces together that Doc is occupying space within Charley.
It becomes solidified in Charley’s mind when his young love first girlfriend Teresa tells him that George is not his real father, Doc is. Teresa’s family used to be good friends with their family but now George is going to sell their property out from under them.
The reader can clearly see that George is the worst. Phoebe has a harder time with it but we know. And everybody knows for sure when Charley walks in on him cheating on Phoebe. Doc sees this through Charley’s eyes and is madder than ever before.
George continues his streak of terrible when he has Teresa’s family deported to Mexico and gambles away Phoebe’s nest egg.
The truth is all finally revealed when it is determined that Jack struck the final killing blow on Doc but George and a family lawyer were also involved.
Through Charley, Doc inadvertently kills the lawyer by having him hit by a runaway tractor.
Charley has a hard time living with all of this. He develops a drinking problem and is in and out of juvenile detention facilities. And honestly, who wouldn’t be after their dead father whom they never even met was attempting to control their body to commit crimes.
Charley also begins to stalk Jack and his family. He becomes particularly obsessed with Jack’s daughter. As he’s getting caught he accidentally, maybe not so accidentally, causes Jack’s death by him getting hit by a car.
Thinking that this must be rock bottom, Charley gets very drunk and crashes his mother’s car. During his physical recovery Doc is able to commandeer the body and kisses Phoebe. Charley is reasonably disgusted by this and is fed up with being used by the ghost of his father.
He manages to sink a little further after becoming homeless and getting arrested for vagrancy. He is talked into joining the Navy in order to avoid going down a criminal path.
This previous part of the story was told through Charley talking to a mental competency doctor for the Navy. The doctor diagnoses him with schizophrenia and discharges him from service.
Unable to hold a job, Charley can’t get Doc to shut up inside of his head. Doc’s single thought is about completing his revenge and he won’t even let his own son rest until it’s done.
Charley finds work at a plantation. He conveniently finds his childhood girlfriend Teresa working there. They almost immediately are wed.
This part of the story felt a little too easy for my taste. It’s very unlikely he would have ever seen Teresa again but it was also nice to have him find some happiness for a change so I’ll allow it, this time.
Even after finding that piece of happiness Doc is still relentless in Charley’s mind. Charley decides to find a way to end him once and for all. He confronts George after finding him in a prison and leaves before Doc can take control and murder him.
Charley then goes to visit his mother on her death bed. They reconcile right before she passes away. Another narrative convenience.
Charley can still hear Doc’s voice ringing in his head. Doc wants to go be with Phoebe and doesn’t care if Charley has to die for him to do that. Doc is a terrible father.
Charley goes to the ocean and very nearly drowns himself but he believes he is finally freed of his father. He returns home to his family for his happily ever after but finds his daughter is showing signs of being inhabited by Phoebe. This will set us up for a sequel.
I am unsure how I feel about a sequel to this story. I felt like the story was fairly complete but I’ll trust that the author has big things in mind for the granddaughter’s tale.
Speaking of the author, her writing is fantastic. She displays a masterful understanding of descriptive prose. Nothing is superfluous or drawn out, simply lovely descriptions that place you in a well thought out scene. I thoroughly enjoyed reading such a competent novel.
Her style paired very well with the themes of music present throughout the book. I felt the words flow through me like a classical song that was both comforting and intriguing. Marlenee is definitely a name to keep on your radar.
If you enjoy period dramas, family dramas, or just beautifully written fiction I can easily recommend Curse of the Ninth.
4/5 scores 🎼🎼🎼🎼
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