A Book of Strange

by Sylvia Fraser,
376 pages,
ISBN: 0385254245

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Brief Reviews - Non-Fiction
by Jeff Walker

WHEN DID Sylvia Fraser decide to write a book on the paranormal? Upon viewing a film from Hong Kong in which 1) the date of the heroine's death and ghostly reunion with her lover a year later is March 8 -- Fraser's birthday! 2) the reunion takes place at I I o'clock -- the very hour of Fraser's birth!! 3) the only English name Fraser sees in the credits is Sylvia!!! 4) the year of the heroine's death is not that of Fraser's birth!!!? Well, three out of four ain't bad; surely this is bona fide synchronicity. A spooked Fraser recalls, I walk up the aisle, feeling weird, as if I were stumbling through a carnival funhouse with each mirrored surface reflecting back some distorted image of myself, pursued by the sound of disembodied laughter." That disembodied laughter was surely an ominous foretaste of the fully embodied laughter that The Book of Strange: A Journey (Doubleday, 350 pages, $27.50 cloth) evokes.

The Book of Strange amounts to stunningly naive reportage of the New Age tomes that fell into Fraser's hands over the past several years, sprinkled with dozens of embarrassingly sophomoric anecdotes of her own allegedly psychic experiences. She rounds up the usual suspects -- Cayce, Reich, Jung, Nostradamus, etc. -- who shill for all the perennially suspect phenomena whose nonexistence would supposedly condemn our lives to banality.

The bibliography lists only a few among the dozens of books that cast a skeptical eye on supposed paranormal occurrences. Fraser seems blissfully unaware of the many devastating critiques to which anyone intrigued by her subject matter would inevitably be drawn. For instance, how could anyone interested in the famous Bridey Murphy case of alleged reincarnation have failed to turn up Martin Gardner's debunking of it in Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science (1956)? "Science is dead," proclaims Fraser. No, it's The Book of Strange's research that's dead.

Fraser refers to ours as a skeptical culture. Excuse me. This culture? P. T. Barnum's dream come true -- the greatest mass of card-carrying suckers in human history -- skeptical? She even reproves certain unnamed skeptics for being churlish. But surely even knowledgeable believers would get a tad churlish seeing thoroughly debunked drivel like Bridey Murphy endlessly regurgitated, reheated, and re-served on hardcover platters.


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