Hey, time for another story from my far-flung youth! Ghost Story is one of the first R-rated movies I ever saw. It scared me enough so that I made sure to finish my paper route before dark. I had to deliver a paper to this house atop a small hill, and for a few weeks the trek up that hill freaked me out. Thinking about that now – the fact that I had a paper route, and the fact that a movie could scare me – fills me full of sad nostalgia.
Anyway, back to the review. Ghost Story isn’t an original novel, but it’s told in an interesting way. The book is long and dense and full of bizarre imagery, much of it sexual. Ghost Story meanders into strange places. Characters do weird things for inexplicable reasons. The person I’m assuming is our protagonist appears in the first chapter and then doesn’t reappear again for many chapters.
I think part of Ghost Story’s appeal lies in its unpredictability. I am not sure what to make of this book, but feel sure that the author was in control every step of the way. I’ve read better horror novels, but I’ve never read a horror novel with as much style as Ghost Story.
The plot: The Chowder Society is a group of five old men (four when the story starts) bound together by the fact that they killed a woman when they were in their twenties, except that the woman wasn’t really a woman and they didn’t really kill her. Despite these facts, the not-woman and her creepy friends have returned, decades later, to murder The Chowder Society and anyone with even a tangential relationship to the aforementioned not-killing. We’re talking about sons, daughters, neighbors, paperboys, even nephews of the original players!
The Chowder Society is important to the plot of Ghost Story, but the actual members don’t appear much in the book. Ricky Hawthorne has a cold that seems to last a few months. I am sure that Sears James, Hawthorne’s law partner, is based on Orson Welles. Their last names are puns – (Nathaniel) Hawthorne and (Henry) James. Dr. John Jaffrey is a dope addict who takes a header off a bridge in the opening chapters. Lewis Benedikt lives alone in a big house in the woods and is attempting to have sex with every housewife of Millburn, NY.
The actual plot is driven by others. Exhibit A is Jim Hardie, teenage lunatic, lover, hotel clerk, rebel without a cause, town peeper. For awhile Jim is the little engine that could, single-handedly placing the plot on his brawny shoulders and running with it. I liked Jim. Collective IQs drop by fifty points whenever he enters a room, but you can’t have everything. When the shit goes down, Jim is the first to die, leaving his sidekick Peter Barnes to face the weirdlings alone.
Peter’s mother is having an affair with Lewis Benedikt, one of the members of the Chowder Society, and that’s enough to mark him and his mom for death. We also have Freddy Robinson, who sells insurance and lusts after high school girls. Don Wanderley is a youthful horror writer who I’m sure isn’t based on the author at all; he tells the story of his relationship with the strange woman who later kills his brother, seemingly unaware that he comes off as a neurotic asshole. What I like about Ghost Story is that although Wanderley doesn’t know that he comes off as a neurotic asshole, the author does.
Stuff happens, but not in the way you’d expect. The not-woman has style. There is a choreography to what she does, a strange dance. She’s like a movie director – or even a writer. It helps that most of the members of the Chowder Society are done. At times it seems like the not-woman is doing them a favor by putting them out of their misery.
Anyway: I loved Ghost Story even though I see how it could drive people crazy. Book tally so far – two thumb’s up, one thumb’s down.
One Reply to “Ghost Story”
I wanted to love Ghost Story! I didn’t hate it—I just hated how slow it went. I didn’t feel invested in any of the characters I think because it was difficult to really pick out a main character or protagonists. As you pointed out, the story was propelled by secondary figures, which could have been okay if I was rooting or fearing for someone—anyone. I suppose Ricky would be the only character I could care much about—maybe.
There were too many meanderings into strange places for my taste, but with that said, I admired the story and the author. It was complex and thoughtful in that I never felt as if the author didn’t know where he was going. Nor did I ever get the feeling that things were making no sense at all. It was a slow-burn but I think felt maybe a little more like a mystery than a horror story. Staub did a good job at planting clues, and making connections but it all took longer than I think it needed to.