Finally finished it. It took a bit because I’ve been sick and as soon as I hit the pillow I’m dead to the world. NyQuil tends to do that.
Before I get into the book too much I have to warn you: There Will Be Spoilers
Anywho, a brief synopsis of Ghost Story. Courtesy of Goodreads because I suck at doing those:
“For four aging men in the terror-stricken town of Milburn, New York, an act inadvertently carried out in their youth has come back to haunt them. Now they are about to learn what happens to those who believe they can bury the past — and get away with murder.”
I really like the story even though it may move somewhat slow for some people because Peter Straub really takes his time in setting up the characters and the town, which is almost a character in and of itself.
The characters are for the most part pretty likeable. The Chowder Society consists of Edward Wanderley, Dr. John Jaffrey, Lewis Benedickt, Sears James and Ricky Hawthorne. Edward dies before the book begins do we only really get a glimpse of him in flashbacks. John Jaffrey does soon after the start of the book so, again, we don’t really get a very good feel for him. Sears James is their undisputed ‘leader’. Massive, imposing and gruff he seems a bit austere but he grows on you. Lewis is, to me, kind of a non-character. We do get to spend quite a bit of time with him and in his head but for all that he’s just…bland. Ricky is the main character for the most part. Later in the book it’s divided pretty evenly between Ricky, Edward’s nephew Don and a teenage boy named Peter.
Ricky is very likeable and Don is also. Don grows on you a bit as a character because during the Alma parts I thought he was a bit of an ass. Peter is very likeable as well and the three have a good and believable chemistry to them.
There are some peripheral characters such as the sheriff, the town drunk and Ricky’s wife, Stella.
It moves at a pretty good pace, especially towards the end. It might be a slower pace but the tone is even and consistent throughout. Until the end when things pick up and really get rolling.
It does have a few problems though. There are very few female characters and the ones they do have are either background or pretty unlikable. Such as Ricky’s wife. She cheats on her husband (with his knowledge but not really consent) but apparently isn’t above trying to make him feel jealous occasionally or being petty and slightly vindictive about his nights at The Chowder Society meetings.
A bigger flaw is the creatures themselves. They dint really have a specific name but in the book they call them manitous or shapeshifters. Which isn’t really a problem but their powers leave you wondering how on earth these three men triumph over them. They have mind control powers, can weave elaborate hallucinations that can kill, control ghosts (although the ghosts seem to be used more as distractions rather than anything lethal), plus their own physical strength and shapeshifting abilities. It kind of makes you wonder why they don’t rule the world and how the ordinary Joes (one of them over 60 and with a severe cold) even beat them. In the book Alma (the queen bitch) says that they live willingly on the outside of humanity. But why? The only explanation that the book gives is that they find us boring and only pop in from time to time to mess with us. Which isn’t really much of an explanation. It says they have patience and cunning. Which brings me to my next issue. The timeline of Eva Galli’s revenge on The Chowder Society.
Ok, in 1928 they ‘kill’ Eva Galli and in 1958 she appears as Amy Monckton to a painter and his son. It’s implied that she corrupted the sin and caused him to commit suicide. Those are the only two hard dates we’re given. Somewhere in there she kills Lewis’s wife (Lewis was the intended target), goes after Don (and inexplicably lets him live), goes after his brother David (whom she kills), then goes after their uncle Edward, whom she also kills. It just seems very haphazard. Why not kill Don when she had ample chances to do so? He was starting to suspect something ‘off’ with her but that would seem to be more reason to kill him then. Also, why take time off from The Chowder Society to kill a random painter’s son? It does seem that she wants them unsuspecting and so maybe give them time to lull them into a false sense of security. Also, Ricky is the only member of The Chowder Society with children. She took the time to go after Edward’s nephews so why not Ricky’s children? That just seemed a little bit weird to me.
Which brings me to the largest problem of the book. If you take away most of the supernatural trappings you have a story about five men who ‘accidentally’ kill a woman. She was a friend of theirs, slightly older. After her fiancee died (implied to have been caused by something he saw her do, possibly her shapeshifting) she goes to Edward’s house where they are all gathered. She starts acting wild and socks them because their self-described goddess starts acting ‘slutty’ and swearing up a storm. She tries to initiate sex by stripping down, at which point Lewis basically has a nervous breakdown and tackles her, causing her to hit her head on the mantle. They believe she’s dead, panic and hide the body by sinking a car, with her in it, to the bottom of a lake.
Now, my problem is this. When they tell Don the story he basically says, “There, there. She was an evil creature who wanted to take away your innocence so you were completely justified”. Take away the supernatural aspects (which they did not know of at the time) and you’re left with five young men who killed a girl and hid the body. And the story basically says it’s ok because she was acting ‘wanton’ and ‘lascivious’. Which is more than a little icky.
So, there’s my basic feelings toward the book. It’s an enjoyable read but more on the slow-burn side than dynamite going off. The action pieces are done very well, though. When it gets going it really gets going.
So, curl up, let it snow outside (or pretend if you’re in warmer climates) and send some time in Millburn with Eva/Alma/Alice/Amy/Anna and The Chowder Society. Dr. Rabbitfoot’s waiting. You’re in for a hell of a time.