Central Michigan University professor Dr. Ari Berk is an award-winning author of numerous books for adults and children. And just in time for Halloween, he’s released his latest novel, “Mistle Child.”
Dr. Sue Ann Martin, reviewer for CMU Public Radio’s “The Children’s Bookshelf,” sat down with Berk to discuss his latest novel.
SM: Doctor Ari Berk, professor of English, at Central Michigan University is the author of the Undertaken trilogy. Where in anguish ghosts, family secrets, and harsh rituals trouble the gothic landscape. In Deathwatch the first book in the trilogy, Silas is determined to find out why his father who he thinks is the mortician in Lichport has disappeared. He also discovers that his father actually served as undertaker to the dead whose souls could not go to peace, and that he Silas shares some of his father’s gifts. As the second book, Mistle Child begins young Silas Umber has taken over his father’s position as undertaker of Lichport, and is just beginning to understand his duties to the ghostly dead. When he is summoned to the family mansion where centuries of Umber ancestors abide. Now he doesn’t know who to trust and they all seem to have their own reasons to become watcher of the threshold. Did you want to say something about families to 12-15 year olds over the span of the undertaken trilogy?
AB: I wanted to say something about families really to readers of any age. But particularly the obligations that we have to our families. And particularly when were younger the tension that arises from sometimes trying to live up to those obligations. With this story I wanted to really compound that idea, by taking it out of the immediately, just the mother and the father perhaps the grandparents, what would happen if you were under obligation to 1000 year of your family. Who could all express their various concerns or demands all at once.
SM: And that takes quite a person Silas, the coming of age hero, in the trilogy is faced with so many decisions in Mistle Child. Where did you find this character?
AB: I really looked back to my own teenage years. When I was 17 years old, I had grandparents who passed away. I had sort of a gothic imagination; I spent a lot of time at the cemetery. I’ve always loved old cemeteries. And in fact one of the episodes, in the first book, where Silas goes to Ditches school, gives tours, pretends to be an employee, that’s a piece of biography. So for his awkwardness I look back to my own teenage years.
SM: On page 178, Silas gets caught up in that sheer power of bringing the wander ghost of Joseph Downing to the Limbus stone. And on one hand, he feels sorry and such for the pitiful ghost. And your description is so heart wrenching of that ghost. Would you mind reading the paragraphs that describe this powerful action for us?
AB: Now I speak my judgment against this ghost, Joseph Downing, against the walking one. Here and now he shall depart, shall be as if he never was, and shall never again trouble the living or the dead. Joseph Downing hung speechless above the threshold. Below his feet the surface of the Limbus stone grew bright and transparent, but he remained, arms moving up and down, while his hands opened and closed desperately as if clawing to keep hold of the air. Silas lost holy in the right, pitched his voice into a thunder. Chado- Noli, he pronounced. At once the black stone under Joseph Downing swallowed him, and the room grew still. Silas’s heart was racing, his words flowed with the force of command and his body shook with power he held over the dead. Something in his world had shifted in that moment, and whatever was to become of him he knew he would not be able to turn back.
SM: CMU professor Ari Berk, speaking about and reading from Mistle Child, the second part in his the undertaken trilogy. With degrees in ancient history, American Indian studies, and comparative literature and culture, he comes well-armed into the realm of the gothic novel. Our conversation continues tomorrow focusing on the other memorable characters who help tell this richly textured ghost story. For CMU Public Radio I am Dr. Sue Ann Martin.