First Advisor

Leni Zumas

Date of Publication

Spring 7-22-2013

Document Type

Closed Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) in Creative Writing






Novelists -- Family relationships -- Oregon -- Portland -- Fiction, Fathers and sons -- Oregon -- Portland -- Fiction, Families -- Oregon -- Portland -- Fiction



Physical Description

1 online resource (vi, 336 pages)


The remains of James Oliver Plunkett are dug up one night from their grave at Mount Calvary Cemetery by two college adjunct writing professors, Bob Rusher and Phil Pike. Having chopped through Plunkett's coffin with a pick, Rusher lifts Plunkett's skeleton from the coffin and pronounces his name--and in this moment Plunkett returns to consciousness as a cognitive vapor. The reason that Plunkett has been dug up is hinted at: After writing many unpublished novels and stories during his lifetime, and dying utterly anonymous, Plunkett's fiction has somehow been posthumously published, to great acclaim. Rusher is a huge fan of Plunkett's published work and is digging him up in the belief that one of his unpublished novels--The King of Portland--has been buried with him. When he does not find the novel, Rusher decides to kidnap the remains to force Plunkett's family to reveal the status of The King of Portland.

Plunkett drives with Rusher and Pike to a strip club called the Serpentine, located in downtown Portland. They are not aware of Plunkett, but when they enter the club, leaving his bones behind in the car in a brown sack, Plunkett accompanies them. Rusher is courting one of the strippers, Hazel, and has given her one of Plunkett's posthumous novels to read, which she's enjoyed. Hazel's employer and perhaps boyfriend Chuck arrives at Rusher and Pike's table and, with Hazel still present, demonstrates his claim to the stripper by urinating in Rusher's beer.

Rusher leaves the club humiliated. After dropping Pike off, he drives to the Hollywood District and brings the sack with Plunkett's remains into his house. His girlfriend Ava Snyder is there, reading the poet Rilke in the bathtub--fully clothed, smoking a cigarette, lying on an air mattress, and drinking an old fashioned. Plunkett is present in consciousness throughout. Rusher does not tell Ava about his grave robbing or the bone-sack he's carrying; but when he leaves Ava in the tub, taking the bones with him, Plunkett remains behind in the bathroom and is startled to find himself privy to Ava's thoughts.

After Ava splits from Rusher, Plunkett remains with her, experiencing her life while wondering about the family he might have left behind at his death, nine years earlier. Ava has a scary encounter with her bullying, drug-addled sister Judy, during which she has hints of Plunkett's presence in her mind; but Ava dismisses these hints until after a disappointing visit to her mother, with whom she has long had trouble communicating. At this point Ava hears Plunkett's voice for the first time, and they begin conversing. After transitioning from disbelief to annoyance to the intimate, irresistible pull of their shared consciousness, Ava eventually helps Plunkett to discover the reason for his posthumous, unlikely literary fame and the state of his still-living family: A wife and son who have reaped the profits of his posthumous success, but do not harbor fond memories of their long lives together with him.

Plunkett has a vision of his death, in which he apparently committed suicide over his decades-long literary obscurity. Ava seeks out Plunkett's son, Kyle Fleming, an artist who has established his own, prominent comic book company. Kyle is bitter toward his father for neglecting him while growing up, and has taken on his mother's maiden name; but he then reveals that it was his father's fame that propelled him to celebrity as a comic book artist and publisher. Meanwhile, Plunkett's wife Camille is suffering from dementia and lives in a managed care facility. Ava and Plunkett arrive at Camille's room; in the presence of her late husband's consciousness, Camille reveals that it was she who asked Kyle to send out one of his unpublished manuscripts for publication--a romance novel whose enormous, unexpected success led to the publication of several other best-selling works by Plunkett. In spite of this, Camille tells Plunkett that she experienced the happiest years of her life after he died. While Plunkett was never violent and rarely verbally abusive, he was always distant, neglecting his wife and son to write his fiction around a series of demanding day jobs.

After this visit, in which she thought she might lose him to Camille, Ava informs Plunkett that she has fallen in love with him. Plunkett reciprocates her feelings. And yet, Plunkett's lack of physical being is causing Ava to consider a romance with Kyle, his son, in order to experience more fully the voice of the dead writer she has come to love. Ava meets Kyle at a bar on Lombard Street; Kyle informs Ava that his mother, Camille, has died. Kyle insists that Ava take him to the managed care home to help make arrangements for his mother's body. During this car ride, with Ava driving, Kyle begins to hear his father's voice and to rail against him. Kyle reveals that his father hasn't committed suicide, but that he shot him for what he considered to be Plunkett's cruelty toward his mother.

Ava and Plunkett are stunned. By this time, Ava has Plunkett's remains in the trunk of her car; she insists that Kyle return the bones to their grave as penance for the murder. At the cemetery Kyle runs away; Ava cannot bring herself to let go of Plunkett's remains. Ava's sister, Judy, shows up at the cemetery and in a drug-addled haze shoots Ava, of whom she has long been jealous. Ava dies of her wounds. Plunkett is left behind--but ultimately they are reunited in the dry, dark sea beyond this life.


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