By Susan Cushman, editor
MadVille Publishing, 2023
Paper: $19.95
Genre: Inspirational
Reviewed by Cheryl Carpenter

All Night, All Day book cover

Contrary to assurances given to frightened children that “there’s no such thing as ghosts,” the poems, essays, short stories, and art of Susan Cushman’s All Night, All Day: Angels, Life and Death maintain that there are, indeed, ghosts and angels among us all the time. Twenty-five distinguished women – several with Alabama connections – have contributed to this intriguing collection with the common theme that people are not alone, that the membrane separating the living from the dead is permeable, and that visitations and manifestations are not as rare as some might think. Taking its title from the familiar hymn-lullaby, the collection suggests that spirits don’t merely “watch over” people from a distant celestial realm but that they roam among the living, offering solace, protection, and guidance. Sophy Burnham makes some interesting assertions about the comings and goings of angels and ghosts in the foreword.

The “presences” in the selections are not malevolent, so these are not traditional ghost stories designed to chill spines; instead, the writers describe their experiences with otherworldly beings as comforting and joyful. Skeptics might claim that the encounters may be explained away as coincidences or the by-products of stress or strong emotion. Natasha Trethewey, for example, in her account titled “Clairvoyance,” is ambivalent, but she allows for possibility: “My rational mind knows very well what my irrational mind is doing. So why not let both exist simultaneously?” Johnnie Bernhard, in “Angels Watching Over Me,” states that there are “some things I may never understand or be able to explain. I’ve always accepted that as a profound truth in life.” Jacqueline Allen Trimble, of Montgomery, in her poem titled “The Truth About Angels” hopes that if she “has entertained angels unaware, [she] made pot roast. And served the good wine. And used the good china.” Wendy Reed, a writer-producer (“Bookmark” with Don Noble and “Discovering Alabama” with Doug Phillips), writes in her essay “The Day of the Dead” that “we are still guided by the primitive core of our brain.” She posits, “What we see and interpret is always based on what we are primed to see.”

Most of the contributors write about angels helping them cope with the death of a family member or a close friend, but several recount moments of pure joy that they ascribe to a beneficent spirit nearby, perhaps a “guardian” angel or a beloved relative. Coincidence? Dreams? Magical thinking? Stress? Are there angels loose in the world in the 21st century? Are we sometimes called upon to be angels’ assistants? The majority of these writers say yes. Balaam’s ass (see Numbers 22:20-35) might have rebuked his angry master with, “Just because you can’t see the Angel of the Lord doesn’t mean he isn’t there,” and most of the highly successful women writers in All Night, All Day would concur. After all, “faith is the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Whether angels exist or they are “what we are primed to see,” All Night, All Day is, in general. an affirmation of willingness to be loved beyond understanding, an affirmation of faith, an expression of hope.

A native of Mississippi, Cheryl Carpenter has lived in Decatur, Alabama since 1987. She is a retired English teacher.