After Mary Shelley’s father’s arrest as a traitor, Mary Shelley flees to her aunt’s home in southern California. There she hopes to find safety from the ugliness of war and the Spanish Influenza epidemic. When Mary Shelley arrives, she learns the flu epidemic is as alive and dangerous as it was in her Oregon hometown. She also discovers her childhood sweetheart, now a US soldier, apparently missing.
With so many families grieving loved ones lost to war or disease, many people turn to Spiritualism, seeking help from famed photographer who claims to capture spirits of dearly departed in his portraits of the living. Mary Shelley’s aunt presses her into sitting for a portrait. The foggy image of Stephen, her love and missing soldier appears with her in the photograph, shocking Mary Shelley. Soon after, Stephen’s ghost visits her, clearly frightened and disturbed. Refusing to accept the public story of his death, Mary Shelley vows to uncover the truth about Stephen’s death and find some way to help him rest in peace.
While the story brings to life an important period in American history, capturing the desperation of World War I and the fear of the flu epidemic, some of the other elements seems almost at war with themselves. Mary Shelley feels devoted to science and scientific understanding. She staunchly believes that the spiritualism craze is bogus and full of dishonest vendors taking advantage of families of war and flu victims.
She decries both the séance and the photographs of her with spirits, yet firmly believes in the encounters she has with Stephen’s ghost, and never really explores why she believes one and not the others, or whether other people may be able to contact spirits. Some of the scenes in which Stephen’s ghost visits Mary Shelley leave her longing for him and yet I found them creepy. I found it difficult to understand her fascination and longing for him, though her desire to see him at peace seemed noble.
Mary Shelley experiences a visit from her lost love at night. The two grieve that they never had the opportunity to consummate their affection for one another, and begin to make out. No clothes are removed, but it’s a pretty intense scene.
During the early 1900s, many people were fascinated with contacting spirits of the dead. Mary Shelley participates in a séance, which she believes a hoax, until the ghost of her former lover contacts her. She sits for a photographer who claims to reveal spirits in his photographs. She does not believe in the authenticity of his practice. Still, she remains convinced that the ghost of Stephen will not be at rest until she understands how he died.
Brief references to a young man beating his brother. Many references to flu victims and their symptoms. Mary Shelley visits a veterans’ hospital and speaks with soldiers there. Various injuries are briefly described.
Mary Shelley hears rumors that Stephen’s brother is an opium addict.