Richard Peck Joan Goldman Levine - Essay

Joan Goldman Levine

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

At the turn of the century, in a barn loft in Bluff City, Middle America, the ghost of the drowned Inez Dumaine—a benign and pitiable apparition—appears to young Alex Armsworth [in The Ghost Belonged to Me] and makes a cryptic request: "To be among my own people … above the ground, but at rest." She tells Alex to find other "true believers" to assist him. And he does.

The journey is humorous and Peck is reminiscent of [Mark] Twain; but for the most part, the droll intimations of a Twain are in Alex's perceptive glimpses of family and friends. For example, Alex on his mother's social aspirations: "We have given up being Baptists in favor of being Episcopalians, which is one step up socially but a step down when it comes to hymn singing."…

Such sophisticated humor could easily come from Uncle Miles, the gadfly, but coming from Alex it exemplifies the problem with this book. Alex is supposedly an adult looking back to his 13th year…. But the voice is unsteady, rarely evoking the feelings of a child. The voice of a child is distinctly missing except, ironically, in the encounters with the soggy spirit of the dead child, Inez Dumaine.

Joan Goldman Levine, "The Spirits Are Willing: 'The Ghost Belonged to Me'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1975 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), July 27, 1975, p. 8.