When I posted my 15 favorite paranormal memoirs a few months ago, I left out one very important book: Suzan Saxman’s The Reluctant Psychic. I originally borrowed this memoir from the library several years ago, which is why I didn’t have a copy on my shelves to jog my memory. But I’ve now rectified the situation by purchasing my own copy and rereading it just this past week. I can’t believe I forgot to put this book on my original list! It is such an engrossing read, and I know I’ll be returning to it again and again in the coming years.
The Reluctant Psychic (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2015) is Suzan Saxman’s memoir about growing up psychic in a highly dysfunctional family. Suzan was the daughter of a long-term love affair her mother was carrying on with a charismatic homeless man. This man, who frequently dressed as Robin Hood and carried a plastic sword, would come stay at their house during the day when Suzan’s “official” father was away at work. Not only was Suzan expected to help her mother hide the reality of this other man’s presence in her mother’s life, but her mother took out on Suzan the guilt and shame she felt over her illicit relationship. Suzan grew up being told that she was ugly, good for nothing, and incapable of loving or being loved.
Suzan’s mother unfailingly denied every positive quality that her daughter possessed, including Suzan’s strong intuitive gifts, which became evident at a very young age. It wasn’t just that Suzan knew things about people that she had no normal way of knowing, although she did seem to have an uncanny knack for that. Her connection to the spirit world was much deeper and much more mysterious.
Even as a toddler, Suzan knew in her heart that she was not a child but an old Englishwoman who just had to pretend not to know how to talk. What was more, Suzan saw the spirits of the dead everywhere she went, and in much better focus than living people, due to her terrible eyesight! Some of these apparitions were comforting, like the nun in an old-fashioned habit who hung out with her under the church steps when she was hiding from the bullies at her Catholic school. There was also the reassuring cloud of spirits she read aloud to on a regular basis, kneeling at her bedroom window every morning from 5 to 8am. And there was the fact that, when she hit puberty, Suzan began to hear bells ringing in her room. (Her mother and sister heard them, too, but would never admit it to her face.)
But then there was also the man in the hat. When Suzan lay down in bed at night, she was routinely haunted by a man in a black hat with fire for eyes. He terrified her throughout her childhood. It was only many years later, in mid-life, that she discovered his identity. He was Ankou, the Breton collector of the dead. Once she realized this, he became much less intimidating. He was just a guide, after all–someone who had been ushering the spirits of the dead to and from their meetings with her.
While Suzan’s memoir is full of paranormal elements, including intriguing snippets from some of the many readings she has done as a renowned professional psychic, her story is really about love. It’s about her learning to love herself despite the abuse of her childhood and despite how different she is from everyone around her. It’s about her attempts to find happiness in her own marriage and love affairs. It’s about a deep longing she feels for an Englishman named Jack Wild, whom she first fell in love with when she saw him on the screen as a child actor and was overcome with the uncanny conviction that she knew him, that they were deeply connected in some way she couldn’t quite understand.
It’s a book about mystery, too. Suzan makes clear that being psychic doesn’t mean you have all the answers. Instead, psychic gifts seem to deepen one’s awareness of just how vast and puzzling the world really is. Suzan’s longing for England and for Jack Wild led her to cross the ocean many times looking for answers, at Glastonbury, at Stonehenge, in London during a hurricane. And then their connection ultimately produced a remarkable–but no less mysterious–reunion, right on American soil.
Suzan Saxman’s The Reluctant Psychic will likely challenge any notions you have of what a typical “psychic’s” life is like. Suzan doesn’t shy away from describing the difficulties, the uncertainties, and the mistakes that have littered her path. And yet all of those challenges take her–as well as us, her readers–deep into the mysteries of the human heart, leaving each of us a little more in awe and a little less lonely.