Buy it now from MLR Press
I wasn’t sure what to expect from a book which bills itself as a “shamanistic mystery”—those two concepts go together about as well as chocolate cake and grape juice. The only thing I was sure of was that the book would either be perfectly wonderful or devestatingly inept. Thankfully, Lloyd A. Meeker’s Traveling Light is closer to the former rather than the latter.
Hospice nurse and shaman-in-training Ian McCandless is visiting his family when his brother is killed in a convenience store holdup and dies in McCandless’ arms. Against the advice of his tutor, Ang, McCandless struggles to complete his training while using his ability to walk between the worlds to gain information about his brother’s killer. But his success in melding these two goals is complicated when he falls in love with a spirit from another time whose murder is imminent.
If you have even a casual interest in shamanism, Traveling Light offers just the right amount of information—enough to ground you in the spirit world but not weigh you down philosophically. You get a good sense of why McCandless may not be able to reconcile his two journeys and what compromises he must make to bend those roads towards the same destination.
Meeker’s sense of pacing is dead on. Neither the real life nor spirit world portions drag—both have crisp dramatic tension and dynamic characters. The sometimes testy relationship between McCandless and Ang provide for some exciting exchanges. Ang is a particularly interesting character. Meeker has wisely eschewed painting him as a sage fount of wisdom—though he is that—who speaks in stereotypical aphorisms and epigrams. He is a spiritual master with some very human flaws; a welcome relief from the way this sort of character is usually presented.
McCandless is also intriguing—eager to become a shaman but equally as ready to break the rules he knows he must follow. I wish more had been made of his relationship with Sam, the non-believing boyfriend. There was a lot more dramatic potential there than the affair with the spirit man, even though that would have had a major effect on the plot and its resolution.
Meeker’s prose is strong and sure—not overdressed, especially in the spirit world. But that plainness in description is necessary to, again, ground the reader and make that world concrete enough so that we can suspend disbelief. His dialogue is a bit stiff at times, coming off as more lecture than conversation, but that sometimes happens when complicated concepts are presented. That, perhaps, is the trickiest ball of all Meeker juggles here.
Traveling Light is a great combination of spirit walking and murder mystery with some fine moments and a totally satisfying ending. A sure bet for a cold winter evening.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler