When Amy E. Wallen's southern, blue-collar, peripatetic family was transferred from Ely, Nevada, to Lagos, Nigeria, she had just turned seven. From Nevada to Nigeria and on to Peru, Bolivia, and Oklahoma, the family wandered the world, living in a state of constant upheaval. When We Were Ghouls follows Wallen's recollections of her family who, like ghosts, came and went and slipped through her fingers, rendering her memories unclear. Were they a family of grave robbers, as her memory of the pillaging of a pre-Incan grave site indicates? Are they, as the author's mother posits, "hideous people?" Or is Wallen's memory out of focus?
In this quick-paced and riveting narrative, Wallen exorcizes these haunted memories to clarify the nature of her family and, by extension, her own character. Plumbing the slipperiness of memory and confronting what it means to be a "good" human, When We Were Ghouls links the fear of loss and mortality to childhood ideas of permanence. It is a story about family, surely, but it is also a representation of how a combination of innocence and denial can cause us to neglect our most precious earthly treasures: not just our children but the artifacts of humanity and humanity itself.
About the Author
Amy E. Wallen is associate director at the New York State Summer Writers Institute and teaches creative writing at the University of California, San Diego Extension. Her first novel, MoonPies and Movie Stars, was a Los Angeles Times bestseller.