Monday, September 05, 2005

30. Ghost Story by Peter Straub

Ghost Story book pictureMy S.O. picked this one out from the library. She'd heard a good recommendation a while ago and had wanted to read it. I was dismissive at first. I read The Talisman that Straub wrote with Stephen King and really enjoyed it, especially the pulp narrative elements, but I sort of considered Straub to be a "mainstream" horror author and most of those that I have tried to read, I've found pretty boring.

But I got stuck bookless and read the first chapter and found the writing style to be rich and entertaining, with some depth there. My S.O. had a bit of trouble getting started but then after the first third, she blazed through it, barely able to put it down. So I erased my previous uninformed opinion and read the book.

It's a story about a small town in upstate New York and 4 old, succesful men who have a dark secret in their past and are starting to have all kinds of freaky nightmares. They get together regularily and tell each other ghost stories, stories that they won't admit to each other seem to come from out of nowhere. The plot sounds a bit hoary, especially the dark past, but it becomes much more complex and multi-layered with all kinds of things of gripping stories going on in an interconnected web. Even better, the evil (and I don't want to be precise because the fun is in the discovery) isn't just some vague menace, but has methods and characteristics that make it quite interesting.

Also, as I found on my first read, the writing is good. There are many well-developed and varied characters. Even better, he captures the claustrophobia of a small town. In the few times I've spent in small towns in upstate New York, they all had this old, sort of closed-off feeling, like an unopened chest of drawers in an attic somewhere. He really conveys that feeling, of nostalgia and innocent times past mixed with fear and social segregation and cheating and all the usual small town evils. In some ways, the town itself is almost evil by definition and the evil that comes to it secondary.

This book is not perfect. There are some inconsistencies in the plot and one of the major protagonists has a questionable presence in the story at all, but it's thoroughly entertaining and quite dark and creepy. It's a great summer time read and definitely the kind of book that deserves to be a bestseller in that it appeals to the masses without being stupid and easy. Quite fun, I recommend it.

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