Anyone who loves a good ghost story will tell you that we are haunted by the past. But what if the past sought to reach out, to make itself heard, to remind us that it – that those who populated that space – were as real and vibrant as you and I are now?
A ghost story told from the perspective of the ghost, The Last to See Me by M. Dressler does just this, featuring protagonist Emma Rose Finnis, an Irishwoman residing in the small town of Benito, California, in the early 1900s. In the modern world, a world where spirits are considered dangerous, things that must be hunted, Emma haunts the small town – especially the Lambry home, the home of the family she served – when a hunter appears to eradicate her existence. She must fight for her right to remain.
Dressler, an already established author and an associate professor teaching creative writing and literature at Guilford College, possesses a sublime talent for supernatural fiction – The Last to See Me being her first foray into the genre. Like Alice Lambry’s sea-glass, glimmering and reflecting the light of the golden sun, Dressler’s attention to detail helps capture the ethereal in a flash.
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Emma’s character is one that is both deeply relatable and heartfelt, an accomplishment only aided by the decision to use a first-person point-of-view. In Emma’s struggle to remain in what she sees as her home, a threnody starts to emerge: the past seeking to be understood. That it is not dirt or dust, not something to be discarded. That what has gone before need not scare us; that we truly cannot wipe the slate clean and act as if nothing came before, no matter how much we might wish it so.
The Last to See Me also uses the customary old, isolated mansion trope so often found in Gothic literature to great effect: where a modern buyer sees an opportunity to take advantage, a figure from the past remembers how things used to be, in the golden glimmer of electric lights and the later company of an old woman living in relative isolation.
Dressler also challenges us to examine whether we are the ghosts. In the memory and experience of a place, you all too soon become the ghost yourself. The Last to See Me also lovingly highlights a deep exploration of what it means to be human, even after we’ve died.
This is a ghost story for people who have come to understand, love, and accept that the past is with us, every step of the way.
Laura Kemmerer is an editor living in Pittsburgh. Find her on Twitter @hpbookcraft.