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Rachmaninoff's Ghost: Isle of the Dead [Paperback]

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Item description for Rachmaninoff's Ghost: Isle of the Dead by M. F. Korn...

Mark Conner wants to be a pianist, but when he transfers to Southeastern Louisiana University, he is told he doesn't have the talent. Mark's obsession with Sergei Rachmaninoff, the great Russian composer, and his fascination with the Occult lead to a horrific tale of desire, fame, and revenge.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   160
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.48" Width: 6.38" Height: 0.45"
Weight:   0.47 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Publisher   Silver Lake Publishing
ISBN  1931095418  
ISBN13  9781931095419  

Availability  0 units.

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1Books > Subjects > Horror Fiction > General
2Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General > Contemporary

Reviews - What do customers think about Rachmaninoff's Ghost: Isle of the Dead?

Review from Necropsy  Jan 19, 2006
Facing the Music

A Review of M. F. Korn's Early Work, Rachmaninoff's Ghost

By Jim Reyome

Korn, M. F., Rachmaninoff's Ghost. Lansdowne, PA: Silver Lake Press, 2002. 146p.

As a (frustrated) writer myself, long at work on the Great American Novel--and who among us isn't--it's always fascinating to look at the early work of an established author. Kinda like looking at one of Van Gogh's finger paintings.

Not that I belong in the same league, but I could do the same sort of with my own work. I save pretty much everything I write, and that's stacks and stacks of notebooks and furiously typed pages, most of which are in envelopes which have been sealed, opened briefly, and resealed dozens of times. These envelopes invariably have warning labels of some sort on them reading TOXIC! or BIOHAZARD! or NOT SAFE FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION. Often I wonder what manner of pharmaceuticals I was on when I spewed some of that crap. Mind you, that was back in the 80s, so it could have been just about anything.

So, I can still read my early works. I just choose not to do so very often--it's far too wince provoking. Joe Lansdale couldn't elicit more sincere (unintentional) retches, and as such I would not recommend it to anyone without a stout constitution. That anyone would allow folks to read their early works is, to me, surprising at the least, and that they would actually publish such a work is positively shocking. Thus, I must conclude that Michael Korn is a far, far better man than I. Or at least he has a stronger stomach, for with the publication of Rachmaninoff's Ghost he has put an early (vintage 1984) work out for public display.

Onward, then: a shambling, disheveled man staggers down the sidewalks of New York City, near death. Taken for a drunk, he's eventually removed to a hospital to be treated for his maladies, one of which is apparently mental: he insists his name is Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Flashback to six months prior and we meet the principal character, one Mark Conner, a former engineering student at Louisiana State University who transfers to a smaller school to study music, an opportunity he likely wouldn't have qualified for at LSU. He is a talented piano player, but not extraordinarily so, and on his first audition at Southeastern it's suggested he major in something other than piano. Mark is, needless to say, devastated, and goes to extreme measures to improve himself. No self-help course will do, no Roy Clark's Big Note Songbook for him; no, Mark Conner turns to another, more sinister book: the Necronomicon. It seems he has experience with this sort of thing; his mother turned him on to the Occult as a child and with Lovecraft's volume and others obtained at a local used bookstore (great atmosphere there, by the way) he pays a visit to a local bone orchard to summon Rachmaninoff his own self.

The summoning works swimmingly, if painfully. Presto gooey gumbo, Mark Conner can play. So much for bad auditions.

Unfortunately, things don't exactly stop there (but then you knew that was coming, didn't you?). Mark doesn't merely channel the talents of Rachmaninoff; he actually becomes the legendary pianist. It happens in bits and pieces; first he gets his hair done in a crew cut; he takes to wearing an old, long trench coat; he stops eating and starts drinking. Heavily. He even redecorates his dorm room in a style befitting someone of his stature, much to the dismay of his roommate. All the while he is impressing and even astounding everyone around him with his 88 key virtuosity.

Well, not exactly everyone. But Junior Treacher's not telling. He's the one person in Hemdale who knows of Mark's misadventures. Junior, you see, happened to be in the cemetery polishing the headstone of his "Mama Ida" the night Mark did his summoning. Junior never did much talking, at least any that ever made much sense. But he's doing some talking now: "Rachmaninoff must die! Rachmaninoff must die!" Even more curiously, Junior can suddenly play the piano. Clumsily, not as elegantly as the well trained Mark Conner, but nonetheless he can play. No lessons, no Big Note Songbook, nothing except a whammy from beyond the grave. And he knows about whammies too, does Junior Treacher. Mama Ida taught him, along with a few other things, which are left unsaid but implied. Interesting stuff, this.

This neat little subplot is interrupted abruptly and in a wonderfully gruesome manner. A pity. Meanwhile, Mark's fame grows and grows until it's too big for Southeastern, too big for Louisiana. He's invited to audition for the Julliard, his picture's taken for the cover of Time, and he's ready to check himself into an insane asylum. He knows there's something wrong. He just doesn't know what to do about it. He never plays even a single note at the audition, and finally we come full circle, with Mark roaming the streets of New York, insisting he's Sergei Rachmaninoff. He's eventually returned to Louisiana for treatment, and it's in this institution where the story reaches a gooey climax that is awfully rushed and ultimately unsatisfying after an otherwise engrossing read. The loose ends are mostly tied up (with one obvious exception being Mark's child) but that's about it. No happy ending here--not much of a surprise, that--but not unhappy either.
Here's where Rachmaninoff's Ghost slips for me: I didn't care much about Mark Conner. He was just a lynchpin, an axle around which the story turned. Necessary, but not very engaging. Some character development would've made a big difference here. The most interesting character is Junior Treacher, who plays all too small a role. I was also disconcerted by the repeated references to the teeth of some of the characters. Teeth, of all things. Tiny teeth. Tiny white teeth. Well, at least they practice good dental hygiene.

Having said all that, I must also note that I really did enjoy this book, and as I have yet to end a review of a book I enjoyed on a downer, I will note some strong points. Conner's life as a music student and as a performer with and without the aid of Rachmaninoff is well presented. Here, Korn's own passion for music is evident, and it's what truly carries the story. Someone less educated musically couldn't have pulled this off and made it work. Also, the basic concept of the tale, while not entirely original, is carried off so well that it's hard not to enjoy it. And then there's the novelty of reading the early work of a budding horror writer. That's pretty neat for those of us who forever seem to struggle in obscurity. Michael Korn has a talent I will enjoy watching him build, and Rachmaninoff's Ghost is a more than adequate foundation upon which to build it.

A Review  Feb 19, 2004
About THE AUTHOR of twelve novels and 240 published stories:

Three of MF Korn's books, CONFESSIONS OF A GHOUL AND OTHER STORIES, and ALIENS, MINIBIKES AND OTHER STAPLES OF SUBURBIA, and also SKIMMING THE GUMBO NUCLEAR were mentioned in The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror: Fifteenth Annual Collection. CONFESSIONS OF A GHOUL AND OTHER STORIES was mentioned in The Mammoth Book Of Best New Horror edited by Stephen Jones. RACHMANINOFF'S GHOST was also mentioned in The Mammoth Book Of Best New Horror edited the following year.

A reviewer, June 26, 2003,
Review in Baton Rouge ADVOCATE Newspaper
Rachmaninoff's Ghost. M. F. Korn. Sliver Lake Publishing, 2003. 146 p.

Local author and pianist M. F. Korn combines two things he loves--classical music and horror--in his most recently published novel. Rachmaninoff's Ghost is a story of possession which is set mostly in Hammond, Louisiana, on the campus of Southeastern University. In this tale, Mark Connor forgoes his parents' dream that he study engineering at Louisiana State University to pursue his own of studying the piano. But alas, while Mark plays well enough, his talents only earn him conditional acceptance to a program at Southeastern. While finding his way around the university, Mark indulges in another passion of his, looking for obscure books on the occult in used book stores. He hits pay dirt when he finds a copy of the Necronomicon, the allegedly fictitious book of the dead mentioned in the writing of H. P. Lovecraft. Later he uses one of the spells found in the book to conjure the spirit of Sergei Rachmaninoff.

The problem is that Rachmaninoff doesn't just appear to Mark; he takes possession of him. Suddenly Mark's playing becomes inspired, and someone from Time magazine comes to hear him play. But doom ultimately awaits the person who believes he can channel the dead and emerge unscathed: when Mark conjured the spirit of his favorite composer in order to take advantage of his talent, he did not realize that there is a terrible price to pay, as a living body cannot successfully host two spirits at once. Ultimately Mark collapses into a shambling lunatic, thus ending his piano career.

Rachmaninoff's Ghost is Korn's first novel, written in 1984, soon after the author graduated from college with a degree in piano, but it was not published until 2003. The influence of the classic ghost story on his early writing is evident, and people wishing to read a relatively gentle tale of possession will be pleased. As a whole, this novel isn't very gory when compared with other works in the horror genre, and Rachmaninoff's Ghost is less subtle and atmospheric, more plot-driven, than Korn's later work. Unfortunately, anyone looking for local color will be disappointed, as Rachmaninoff's Ghost doesn't evoke a specific time and place as poignantly as does his previous novel, Skimming the Gumbo Nuclear. Skimming the Gumbo Nuclear, set in Baton Rouge in the early 1980s, accurately recreates the Chimes Street and LSU culture of that era, as well as evoking the malaise of that decade, leaving readers with the image of zombies running rampant through the now defunct Bon Marche Mall. Rachmaninoff's Ghost, however, doesn't do the same for Hammond.

---June Pulliam LSU Instructor, Horror Lit, English and Gender Studies

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