Nicole Yurcaba on Sybil Baker’s Apparitions

Apparitions by Sybil Baker
Signal 8 Press, 2023

Simone is an adventurer, a breast cancer survivor, and a woman haunted by the death of her brother and the emotional trauma with which her ex-husband, Guy, left her. When Guy’s unexpected death leads Simone to Northern Cyprus, where Guy was teaching and where his Celebration of Life will be held, the ghosts of Simone’s past become more and more real and persistent. In Cyprus, the increasingly mysterious circumstances surrounding Guy’s death lead Simone, and her best friend Agnes, on a whirlwind journey which not only threatens to expose Guy, but also deteriorates Simone’s mental health.

Mystery, betrayal, and political upheaval center Apparitions. While Simone’s pursuit of the truth surrounding her ex-husband’s death ultimately drives the plot, one cannot help but notice the novel’s political undertones. These undertones appear in the form of subtle references to the United States Central Intelligence Agency’s involvement in the country. Simone’s position as an American often elicits comments from locals regarding the CIA’s activities, to the point that, throughout the novel, these references eventually become humorous. However, regardless of the humor, the novel’s incorporation of these socio-political elements brings readers’ attentions to the fact that the United States does not recognize Northern Cyprus as a sovereign nation, and many of the novel’s foreign characters do not hold the United States in high esteem. Simone’s identity as an American woman creates an interesting level of complexity for her as she navigates Northern Cyprus’s culture and political situation, and, frequently, readers infer that creates a deep sense of otherness in Simone. The portrayal of Northern Cyprus’s political decline also adds an eerie layer to the novel when one considers that it mirrors Simone’s mental health deterioration.

For readers who appreciate horror and psychological thrillers, Apparition is a delightful surprise. Simone’s narration of past and present events skillfully weave and create a cerebral web into which readers are deceptively drawn. Some of the most effective narratives form as Simone recalls the death of her brother, Glenn, who was killed in Vietnam during Simone’s childhood. Simone explains to another character, “ […] I was five when my brother Glenn enlisted in Vietnam,” and she emphasizes how she had “wished Glenn away when he told me he was leaving and would miss the play” in which Simone would play Henny Penny. Simone frequently repeats this memory, and the sharpness with which Simone recollects how she received the news of her brother’s death reinforces the idea that, since then, she has lived with an immense amount of guilt and self-blame.

Nonetheless, at other points, Apparitions develops a feminist flare, thanks to Simone’s keen observations about Guy as well as her true intentions for attending Guy’s Celebration of Life. Readers quickly learn that Guy saw himself as a sort of New Age prophet, and they also recognize his misogynistic tendencies, such as luring women into his life only to cheat on them. Another character, Eve, describes Guy as the “male Western New Age influencer,” which Eve asserts is a new means of appropriation and colonization. Thus, as readers learn about Simone’s true reason–to reveal to people who knew and followed Guy that he was a liar and adulterer. For some, Simone’s actions may seem petty, but for others, her ability to reveal the truth about the man who wrecked her life is a startling, even inspiring, act of bravery.

The novel also testifies to the friendships which withstand the hardships of time. Ultimately gluing the plot together is Simone’s friendship with Agnes, a woman with whom Simone has shared a lifetime of friendship. Together, they form a seemingly indestructible duo, bound not only by their lengthy companionship, but also their similar decisions to travel and remain childless. They run a small tea shop, and Agnes helped Simone during Simone’s illness with and recovery from breast cancer. Simone observes that she and Agnes had “led opposite but parallel lives” which “were ways of living in the world that women older than thirty weren’t expected to inhabit.” The careful delineation between Agnes and Simone’s world and the actual world, in which men like Guy easily abuse and discard women, solidifies the novel’s feminist angles.

Readers looking for a psychological thriller with a purposeful message will find it in Apparitions. It is quietly riveting, emotionally tumultuous, and with it, Sybil Baker offers a new kind of feminist novel.

Nicole Yurcaba (Нікола Юрцаба) is a Ukrainian American of Hutsul/Lemko origin. A poet and essayist, her poems and reviews have appeared in Appalachian Heritage, Atlanta Review, Seneca Review, New Eastern Europe, and Ukraine’s Euromaidan Press. Nicole holds an MFA in Writing from Lindenwood University,  teaches poetry workshops for Southern New Hampshire University, and is the Humanities Coordinator at Blue Ridge Community and Technical College. She also serves as a guest book reviewer for Sage Cigarettes, Tupelo Quarterly, Colorado Review, and Southern Review of Books.