Beacon Press, $24, 288 pp.
David Plante’s fourteen novels include the Francoeur trilogy, the intense and compelling story of a working-class French-Canadian family in Rhode Island. The very titles of those three novels-The Family, The Woods, The Country-give a sense of the directness of Plante’s prose, in which plain words accumulate a stark power.
Plante’s memoir, American Ghosts, is no less powerful and no less stark. From the opening scene, which depicts the seven-year-old David’s night terrors, Plante places his readers deep in the heart of his family and his Catholic parish in Providence. David is the sixth of seven sons born to a quiet, nondemonstrative father and a social, articulate mother frustrated by the confines of home. Both parents are of French descent, but it is only the father, Plante says, who is “Canuck,” a “white nigger,” one-quarter Blackfoot Indian, and-most important-believer in a “Canuck God [who] became, in its dark invisibility, more and more a shadow lost within my mother’s superseding, all-too-bright, and knowing God.” The nighttime scene ends when the child David, who in his fear has...