BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS with Sue Giustino

Scape Ghost  by Nanci LaGarenne

Scape Ghost is a ‘What If’ story about  Frank Morris, one of the three inmates who escaped in 1962, from Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, a maximum-security prison located on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. On the night of June 11, the three men tucked papier-mâché heads into their beds, broke out of the main prison building via ventilation duct and an unused utility corridor, and escaped the island aboard an improvised inflatable raft. Presumed dead after a full FBI investigation, with no conclusive evidence having ever surfaced favoring the success or failure of the attempt, the uncertain fate of the three men is a topic of speculation and opinion still today.

Nanci LaGarennne’s newest novel, Scape Ghost is told through the reflective memories of Frank Morris, opening with his thoughts on the events of the escape during early summer of 1962. Switching mid-chapter to a re-tell version, also through Frank’s perspective, taking us along for the escape. By the end of chapter 1, Clarence, John, and Frank were free: “We were presumed dead, swallowed up by the sea, our escape mission failed. Instead, we were alive and well and we aimed to stay that way, no matter what.”

From chapter 2 through the conclusion of the book, Nanci, through the words and thoughts of Cincinnatus Jones, the former Frank Morris, takes us on a journey of mind and soul. We travel into the Oakland Hills in the 60’s, when peace, love, and war was on the minds of all. As a fugitive working to keep his true identity hidden, Cincinnatus learns to weave stories about his past. Reborn into his new identity, he travels for a while with a group of transient hippies and ends up in Shephard Canyon.  His journey becomes solo once again as he leaves the group and wanders to a place called Diamond Canyon. Stumbling onto a deserted cabin among the Redwoods, in a primordial forest of the Oakland Hills, he finds solace in this remote, soothing environment.

As he explores the cabin and surrounding area, Cincinnatus feels a connection with the abundance of nature “the landscape makes me feel alive” he thought, and decides to stay. After discovering art supplies in the cabin while also getting inspiration from the breathtaking world of nature all around him, he begins painting the trees and whittling phases of the moon. Could Cincinnatus Jones be an artist?

Eventually, his life of solitude is interrupted when the owner, Patsy Billie Vaughan, arrives at her cabin, which once belonged to her father. After an uncomfortable meeting their initial fear of each other subsides. With the eventual realization that they are both loners looking for solitude, they settle for a bit of quiet companionship. Although Patsy doesn’t seem to recognize him, she informs Cincinnatus that she is a former schoolteacher for the Warden’s and Officer’s children on Alcatraz Island.  Working and living in San Francisco, and using the cabin only on weekends, she decides that he can stay. And so, their relationship begins.

But, can he trust her? Does she actually know who he really is? Can he ever reveal his true identity? These questions become quite disturbing for Cincinnatus as their relationship gets stronger. However, the visiting ghosts, who appear while Patsy is away, are the real catalyst for his pondering. Quite an array of them make appearances: some from California’s railway days, pioneers of the environment, jazz and blues musicians of Oakland’s Bottom. But the deep reflection and internal conflict of trust, and forgiveness of self is really examined as another level of ghostly beings begin to arrive.

Nanci’s ability to intertwine some very prominent cultural figures of the times through the ghostly lessons is uncanny; Provoking self-reflection on a journey to true freedom, with a twist. Not one therapist, but many visitors offering food for thought- what exactly are they trying to teach him?  What exactly is the author encouraging the reader to reflect upon? Through this creatively crafted story, Nanci touches upon many social issues of the 60’s, that no surprise are still prevalent today.

One of my favorite self-reflection moments from Cincinnatus, while alone in the cabin, happens just a bit after meeting Patsy: I can see the birds now. The sunrise, I paint the moon. I am no old sage who gives advice, but if I were, I know what I would say to anyone suffering while trying to figure out this life. ‘Live your life in a way that dares to reveal you to yourself and others. A way that sets your true self free. Don’t hide from your loved ones, that’s stingy. That is a kind of prison where you sentence yourself.’

As Nanci says, “Scape Ghost is the perfect escape.” Be sure to read the book; join Cincinnatus on his escape and quest for a new beginning.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, Nanci resides in East Hampton with her husband Jim. Scape Ghost is her fourth book, following the two Montauk themed books: Cheap Fish and the bitter end, as well as Within a Whisper a co-authored work, with her husband James and Caroline Upcher- a joint effort about the love story and rescue of their marriage, and Refuge– which follows a diverse group of women who have left abusive marriages and childhoods behind and banded together as they create new lives. For further information, visit her website: .