Haunts


Fiction - Literary
194 Pages
Reviewed on 10/02/2019
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite

Haunts is a literary fiction novel written by George Jansen. The Financial District of San Francisco was in full holiday cheer that Christmas Eve in 1975. As Christmas was on a Thursday that year, workers were generally expected to have put in at least a few hours on the Wednesday before. It only seemed par for the course that Robin Jenks would be the one person in the Word Processing Department where she worked to be asked to stay later to process an important letter that afternoon. So, as her co-workers celebrated at Harrington’s and marveled over the fact that free cigarettes -- whole packs! -- were being given out at every street corner, Robin waited until, finally, word from above came down that the letter wouldn’t be going out that afternoon after all.

Haunts had a special significance for me even before I began reading it. While I wasn’t working in the San Francisco downtown area until nearly twenty years after the story takes place, Natoma Street between 5th and 8th Streets was a haunt of sorts on a daily basis. It was one of the rare streets where there were neither parking meters nor two-hour parking limits. I and many others quietly cruised the street, hoping for that moment when a space would open before our time to park ran out, and we had to ante up for conventional parking. I was frequently hit by flashes of recognition as I read Haunts as, sadly, the street and the people who had somehow ended up living there still seemed exactly the same.

Jansen’s book is a treat for anyone who’s ever lived or worked in San Francisco. I loved seeing it twenty years before I had arrived there, especially through the eyes of George Zumpo, the Native American with the Italian grandmother, who came to the city in his search for his wife, his VW camper and White Dog, his German Shepherd dog. Jansen knows the city quite well, and he shared that intimate sense of being and belonging with his readers. I’m in no doubt that even those who’ve never been there will finish the book feeling that, in some way, they had. He deftly adds historical touches to make the setting really feel like it’s the seventies: a reference to a cop show being filmed there at the time, to the adoption of Castro Street as a gay mecca, Harvey Milk at a celebration and a vision of South Beach before its reclamation as open space. His characters are credible and finely honed, especially Robin, Joey and George, and his plot kept me entranced. His writing is eloquent, powerful and assured. Haunts is a grand novel and it’s most highly recommended.

Stephen Fisher

Haunts by George Jansen is a no holds barred blast from the past set in the mid 1970s. It begins with Half breed George Zumbo just arriving on foot in San Francisco, where he begins his search for his VW camper, White Dog and his wife that ran off with Charlie Weasel. Before beginning his search, he stops to get some beer and a meal from a mission and a shared makeshift temporary commune shelter. He eventually hooks up with the residents of Time and Space, a combination of flop house and rehearsal spaces for rent for punk rock bands that blare their music at all hours of the day and night. The resident owner and couples that also live in the modified spaces are Mac, his wife Robin, and her best friend Sheila, living a life of sex, drugs and rock and roll in the neighborhoods that are the Haunts.

Jansen does an amazing job of creating the infamous subcultures of San Francisco in the mid seventies. His writing style did not pull any punches. Jansen really described what the reader would see with adjectives flying as fast as the visuals that reflected the times and the city. The author's descriptions of the parties, rallies, and gay marches brought back memories of reliving them from old news reels. When all of the stories of the characters intertwined with each other, I was reeled into the sub plots and could not put the book down. Haunts was a refreshing blast from the past that brought back memories of the sex, drugs, and rock and roll revolution. I was entertained on all levels. I would love to see this book made into a movie, because I could visualize it as George Jansen described it. Well done !

Lit Amri

George Jansen’s Haunts takes readers back to the '70s in San Francisco. After his release from jail, ‘half-breed’ George Zumpo arrives in the city searching for his wife, Leela, who ran away with a guy who also took his dog and his 1965 Volkswagen Westfalia camper. Mingling with the homeless drunks, he soon finds himself involved in the lives of a couple and their two friends living in an old South of Market warehouse. It’s a dark but reflective tale of humanity, where the flawed protagonists are different people but share one thing in common; being down on their luck.

Haunts is unapologetic and blunt-the tramps, drugs, and cheap booze-but narrated with style. It’s a fascinating ride back to the period of post-Vietnam War, the continuation of a social progression that started in the '60s, and when American society became more colorful in terms of different races and backgrounds. Jansen, however, zeroes in on the residents’ lives in the back alleys of San Francisco, the ones with a roof over their heads and the ones on the streets. Surrounded by 'winos', Robin, Mac, Sheila, and Joey form an unconventional ‘family’ renting rehearsal space to music bands. The character that captivated me the most was Robin Jenks; her nonchalant out of body experience, hallucinations, seeing apparitions, and sleepwalking episodes give a subtle paranormal vibe to Haunts. Compared to the others, the way her story develops and ties up in the end surprised me. Somber, tragic, eerie but fascinating, Haunts is quite a read from George Jansen.