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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

The Stone Circle by Gary Goshgarian

October 1, 2004

Donald I. Fine Books, New York
1997 (hc)

This is one of those books that simply should have been better than it was. Archaeologist Peter Van Zandt, recently widowed and trying to live down a reputation for getting himself in fringe archaeology, is hired to direct what could be a major contract CRM project on Kingdom Head Island, located in Boston Harbor. Almost as soon as Peter and his young son Andy, who is still suffering the trauma of losing his mother (the death of Linda Van Zandt, we find out, was indirectly due to Peter’s volatile temperament!), things begin to go badly. The archaeology survey is to take place as construction crews continue to develop the island into a gigantic casino/tourism complex, and the contractors are not very pleased that the “archies” are slowing down the project. Veiled threats against Peter and his newly arrived Earthwatch volunteer crew hang in the air as they begin to lay out grids and put down test pits.

Almost at once three large stones are uncovered—stones that seem to fit no Native American cultural scenario, nor do they really fit into the casino developer’s hope that a colonial chapel might be excavated, which could be used in the hoped-for tourist development. The discovery of the stones seem to unleash an eerie set of occurrences, including Peter’s recurring nightmares of witch trials and witch burnings, a runaway backhoe that nearly kills Andy, a spectral pallid-faced watcher at the edge of the woods, and visions of the deceased Linda morphing into the burning witch.

Now all of this does not necessarily make for great literature, but it ought to make for great mid-summer beach reading. Unfortunately, author Goshgarian simply does not write very well and his efforts at finding appropriate similes, metaphors and other figures of speech hit the printed page with painful thunks! In fact, that last sentence could be one of his. He writes of “feeling the perspiration lubricating his joints,” (p.59) and there’s lots of “humming,” as in ‘The dream had hooked him, and he was humming with curiosity about where it was going,” (p. 63), and “He did not believe in karma, but the moment started humming with rightness.” On page 67 he writes of “The cold feather (of fear) brushed across the base of Peter’s skull.” The “cold feather” simile, unfortunately, reappears several times more. On page 70 we find that “Someplace in the center of his brain a node opened. And the thought pistoled out…” This may seem to be unfair “piling on” by the reviewer, but I must add one more sentence to demonstrate what the reader had to endure for nearly 300 pages. On page 1431 we find out that “An electric rocket shot up from his testes and exploded in his head (!).” There is also an all but unforgivable reference to “Herman Schliemann,” rather than “Heinrich.”

I belabor the clunky language in this novel because a mildly interesting plot gets lost in this tangled thicket of verbiage (my God! It’s catching!) to the point that this reader lost interest in the characters, the possibility that the stones were part of a 6th Century Celtic Circle of Stones, or whether the damned casino would ever be built. I simply wanted the book to end!

With this review, we will begin an experiment in rating the books on the basis of one to four trowels; one trowel= don’t bother, to four trowels= run right out to your local book store and buy the hard cover!

Unfortunately, The Stone Circle gets (not surprisingly) one trowel.