3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2003
"What's the most terrible thing you've ever done?"
"I won't tell you that, but I'll tell you the worst thing that ever happened to me...the most dreadful thing" This is how the book opens and comes to life. Boy, does it ever! I first read "Ghost Story" 22 years ago when I was 17 years old. I remember the movie coming out shortly after I read it. The movie version is okay, but really chops up the book. Where is the Lewis Benedikt character in the movie? ... and Edward Wanderly is the mayor of Milburn? No, I'm not going to do a review of the movie, but I must say, that if you really want to enjoy this classic book called "Ghost Story", by all means, read the book where the characters are so rich and full of life.
In Milburn, New York, Ricky Hawthorne, Sears James, Edward Wanderly, Lewis Benedikt and John Jaffrey are young friends on their way to professions in law and medicine. They accidentally kill a woman named Eva Galli. This group living in the 1920s panic and they decide the only thing they can do, cover up Eva's death. They put her "dead" body in a car that was loaned to them and together, push the vehicle into a lake. When the car is sinking they notice something that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. Eva moves ("Jesus, she can't, she's dead!"). But yes, it appears that Eva is still alive and they see that she is grinning at them from the rear view window. Grinning! In the book, "Ghost Story" is a tale of supernatural revenge and the Eva Galli character is indeed very evil.
Return 50 years later to Milburn. The group of men are now called the Chowder Society. They have regular meetings and swap Ghost Stories, but have vowed not to speak of Eva Galli and her death. Suddenly, Edward Wanderly dies while interviewing a young actress named Anne-Veronica Moore at a party hosted by John Jaffrey. Edward apparently dies of fright. The remaining members of the Chowder Society are possessed by terrible nightmares where they die. They send for Edwards's young nephew, Don Wanderly, who is a writer of horror novels. Don wrote a recent book called "The Nightwatcher" based, we learn later, on his own experiences with Eva, known to him as Alma Mobley.
Peter Straub wrote a very cerebral book. Ghosts, known in the book as shape shifters, are entities that have been around when humans first began to gather knowledge. "We (Alma talking to Don inside one of Don's hallucinations) have always lived in your dreams and in your worst nightmares" ... the most dreadful thing!
on February 5, 2010
This Novel does a good job of atmosphere and character development. It does a good job of creating tension and build up. Some parts of it do a good job of creeping out the reader more then most other books are capable of. I can't say that in the end I was satisfied with the conclusion but did enjoy the build up like most books in this genre.
Much like this review i'm writing alot of people will give up reading the book at quarter to half way through. The writer takes alot of time and focus on the build up and suspension which has two effects and one of those is to bore some readers waiting for some pay off. The book is almost made up of different short storys that all combine together and some of these sections you will enjoy others may have you wishing you had of picked up Stephen Kings the Dome instead. This book is hard to find in stores and will eventually probably disappear from Amazon so buy it while you have a chance. Worth a read, better in my opinion then most horror I have read and different from the regular Stephen King I usually read.
on May 1, 2002
The idyllic little country town of Milburn, Connecticut, is under supernatural siege. Inexplicable suicides and curious accidents are occurring. Livestock are found mutilated in snowy fields, with no footprints around them. Dead loved ones visit the living - who die under bizarre circumstances, shortly after. A dwindling number of affluent old men in the community, who call themselves the Chowder Society, know something about it. But they're not talking. Because they can't believe, themselves, the reason why - and they're running scared, because they're the victims of choice.
This is Straub's most intricate, atmospheric, and satisfying novel, constructed as a highly convoluted Chinese puzzle-box of interlocking stories, with a single underlying, unifying theme. The Chowder Society gather together to tell ghost stories, all centered around exorcizing an unexplainable series of events from their collective youth, which appears to be the root cause of the nightmare events in their little town, not to mention their own lives. "What's the most terrible thing you've ever done?" is the question they continually ask each other. "I won't tell you that," is their pat club answer, "but I'll tell you the worst thing that ever happened to me...the most dreadful thing..." From this, Straub derives his springboard of individual ghost and horror stories, pondering the origin of all humanity's nightmares - and explains them with a uniquely novel answer, better discovered by the reader for himself than revealed (beware, some of the reviews below contain spoilers).
Straub generally demands great patience of his readers, and such is the case here, but he pays off in spades for those who stay the course. The style is occasionally a bit over-the-top, but it achieves the desired effect.
I've read this book a few times, and enjoy it more with successive readings. It's a brilliant piece. Very involving, endlessly fascinating, and scary as frozen hell for the holidays.
Treat yourself. Don't miss it.
on March 4, 2002
Peter Straub's "Ghost Story" has become a classic and rightly so. The fear in "Ghost Story" is psychological, it comes from within rather than from without. Much of it is anticipatory. What happens in "Ghost Story" could really happen to any one of us. As such, it is far more chilling than more recent horror novels, most of which end up being either silly or sickening.
Straub manages to keep us a little off-balance throughout the book, thus heightening the suspense. We think we know what's coming next, but we're never really sure. This uncertainty kept me turning pages and reading far into the night, long after I should have turned out my bedside light and gone to sleep.
The characters and situations in "Ghost Story" seemed totally believable even though we "knew" the events portrayed "couldn't" have happened. This made them all the more chilling, at least in my opinion. Several nights I slept with my bedroom light on and even felt haunted by the book when morning came.
I found the setting of "Ghost Story" absolutely perfect and felt the book's atmosphere only added to its overall "ghostly" quality. I was lucky enough to attend college in that part of the United States and I found the setting so "dead on."
For me, at least, "Ghost Story" is the horror story against which I measure all others. So far, nothing else has managed to measure up to the high standards it set. It's truly a classic and rightly so.
on February 28, 2002
I have read every Peter Straub book ever written (excluding Marriages, of course), and this is the best of them all (with Shadowland and If You Could See Me Now running close seconds). Granted, the story is not about ghosts, but what it IS about is even worse than mere spooks. The horror is slow and brooding, almost Gothic in it's telling, giving the reader the feeling of inexorable descent into madness, and the mystery of Eva Galli - a.k.a Alma Mobley, Anne-Veronica Moore, Angie Maule, and Anna Mostyn - is one of the best-developed plots ever written. The characterization (Straub's trademark), is amazing, especially about Gregory Bate/Benton, the pacing is great, and the increasing sense of "What the h--- is going on?" is a very great touch.
Interestingly enough, the original hardback cover is that of a gray background with the title and author's name written on it in giant black letters, and a giant wasp curling up against the letter "Y" of the title. For those of you who have read the book, you know why.
on February 24, 2002
This is the kind of book one can pick up during any decade and the story would still feel timeless. Its a very literary horror novel, different than the usual genre's reliance on the squeamish, opting for a more psychological approach to frighten the reader.
Its the story of four elderly men who meet each week to tell stories and are all hiding a deep dark secret. The Chowder Society lost a member the year before and feel that their secret is the cause of their problems. After some frightening events and dreams, they enlist the help of the dead man's relative to come to Milburn considering he had written books about the occult. Once Milburn is locked down by months of relentless snow, the town seems to be besieged with ghosts picking off the Chowder Society one by one. From there, its a non-stop fight for survival till the end.
Ghost Story is not a ghost story in the classic vein. Its a supernatural story with a different kind of being than the usual ghost or ghoul. This makes the story more original and at the same time even more frightening. Its a brilliant novel that is far more literary and stylish than most horror novels.
This is a very involved book so its not one for those who like a quick, simple read. This one gets under your skin and is truly one of the most terrifying horror novel of all time. A great work of fiction and a masterpiece in its own right. Ghost Story will scare you, intrigue and keep you hooked till the end.
on September 12, 2001
At the time of Ghost Story's publication, the N.Y. Times (which didn't review horror stories in those days) declared that it was a book bound to succeed in the English Department and at the checkout counter. Truer words were never typed. This book is in all likelihood the best modern ghost story, pace Dan Simmons, Stephen King, et al. Its literary influences are obvious -- the law firm of James and Hawthorne is the pivot of the plot, and one chapter is a thinly disguised retelling of The Turn of the Screw--but its mood of elegant dread is perfect, and its energy never flags. Shifts in time and perspective are handled expertly. "What is the worst thing you ever did?" asks the book. "I won't tell you that, but I'll tell you the worst thing that ever happened to me. The most dreadful thing." This book is perhaps the only true page turner I have ever read. I read it on the bus, I carried it into the post office and read it on line. I did not sleep until I finished it. Perhaps it was the time, or my mood, but this is the only contemporary novel that gives me the chill that permeates the best short stories of Poe and Hawthorne and both Jameses (Henry and M. R.). I believe poor Peter Straub (whom I met a few years ago) felt himself a captive of the success of this book for many years, but who can blame his readers? The movie Ghost Story is dreadful, and the talented cast only adds to the waste. Please read the other reviews for a synopsis of the plot....
on August 15, 2001
"...your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions..." Joel, 3:3
In 1979, I discovered the novels of a guy named Stephen King and began reading more extensively in the horror genre. On the prowl for something similar, I happened on Straub's book in the library. I checked it out, little realizing that I had begun a decades long love affair with his work. It's now been almost twenty years since I read it the first time--I've read hundreds of books since then, but few thrilled me like Ghost Story.
Rereading it now, I realize the depth of Straub's accomplishment. Like the legendary storytellers to whom he pays homage, Straub has created a timeless tale of terror, an enduring classic. Reduced to its essentials, Ghost Story is a tale of supernatural revenge. As young men, Ricky Hawthorne, Sears James, Edward Wanderly, Lewis Benedikt and John Jaffrey accidentally kill a woman named Eva Galli. They panic, and decide to cover up her death. Placing her body in a borrowed car, they push the vehicle into a nearby lake. As the car sinks into the muck, they see a sight that haunts them for the rest of their lives: for a moment, it appears as if Eva is still alive, as they catch a glimpse of her face through the rear window. Shaken, they vow to keep her death a secret, and go on with their lives.
Fifty years later, the group still lives in their hometown of Milburn, NY, prosperous and content. Now known as The Chowder Society, they meet on a regular basis to swap ghost stories, but they never speak of Eva. Then, Edward Wanderly dies during a party given in the honor of an actress named Anne-Veronica Moore, apparently of fright. The remaining members experience a series of prophetic dreams in which several of them die. Unable to admit to themselves that Eva Galli has returned to haunt them, they send for Don Wanderley, Ed's nephew. A writer by trade, Don has penned a horror novel called The Nightwatcher, based, we later learn, on his own experiences with Eva, known to him as Alma Mobley.
Don's arrival in Milburn seems to send a signal to the evil which threatens the group, resulting in the deaths of two more of their number. The survivors band with Don and Peter Barnes, a young man whose mother has been killed by Eva and her minions. Together they struggle to locate and destroy their nemesis.
Straub sets the tone for the novel from its first sentences, which express a thought repeated throughout the book. Readers are immediately confronted with the question, "What's the worst thing you've ever done?," followed by the response, "I won't tell you that, but I'll tell you the worst thing that ever happened to me...the most dreadful thing..." Readers are filled with anticipation, wondering what the dreadful thing could be. Straub then proceeds to explore what Stephen King called "a very Jamesian theme...the idea that ghosts, in the end, adopt the motivations and perhaps the very souls of those who behold them." Straub leaves it unclear whether Eva/Alma/Anne Veronica could exist without her victims' belief to sustain her--we never know whether her existence is independent, symbiotic, or totally dependent on those she is out to destroy. Straub's clues muddy the waters, as when Eva and another shapeshifter are asked, "Who are you?" Their answer, "I am you, " is maddening and ambiguous.
Numerous readings reveal how much the book owes to Salem's Lot. Straub has publicly acknowledged this debt, stating that "I wanted to work on a large canvas. Salem's Lot showed me how to do this without getting lost among a lot of minor characters. Besides the large canvas I also wanted a certain largeness of effect. I had been imbued with the notion that horror stories are best when they are ambiguous and low key and restrained. Reading Salem's Lot, I realized that the idea was self defeating."
On reflection, the debt to Salem's Lot is obvious. Both feature small towns under siege from the supernatural. In both, the terror escalates until the towns are threatened with destruction--Jerusalem's Lot is consumed by purifying fire, while Milburn is decimated. In each, a writer's arrival in town seems to trigger disaster. Both writers strike up alliances with young teenagers whose lives are ruined by the terror, Ben Mears with Mark Petrie and Don Wanderly with Peter Barnes. Both forge an almost parental bond with their young allies, replacing those lost parents. In both, the evil lives on--Ben and Mark end up on the run, while Don, after ending the threat of Eva, presumably goes off to face her evil aunt.
In the end, however, Salem's Lot was merely a template, a guide which opened Straub's eyes more fully to the possibilities of horror. Ghost Story is a marriage of two sensibilities: King's, from which it derives its more operatic moments, and Straub's, in that it thoroughly fulfills his literary ambition to expand the boundaries of the traditional ghost story. It also stands as perhaps the first example of Straub's trademark exploration of the power of stories, of the capacity of stories to uncover the truth. Much as King's book stands as a tribute to writers like Bram Stoker and Richard Matheson, Straub's stands as a tribute to writers specifically referenced in the book (Hawthorne, Henry James) and those not (like Poe, Irving, Lovecraft, Bierce and M. R. James) but whose influence is there nonetheless.
Recently, I had the vicarious pleasure of watching my thirteen year old daughter Leigh read this wonderful book for the first time. I took her enthusiastic reaction as validation of my long held opinion that Ghost Story is one of the finest horror novels of the past half century.
on March 29, 2001
Ghost Story is a classic of horror fiction and as such, it is far, far superior to any of the "slice and dice" horror stories or movies floating around out there. Ghost Story is a book about the real horrors of life, those that we create ourselves, those that originate, not from without but from within.
Straub is a masterful writer and his prose is terrific throughout. I really got a sense of "place" with this book, something that doesn't always happen. The characters are well-drawn as well and I came to care about each and every one of them and I took a great interest in their own perception of events.
Even if the horror or mystery genre is not your cup of tea, please do not be put off by Ghost Story. This is a real classic of fiction, one that actually defies classification.
While Ghost Story didn't actually scare me (I think we have all been too bombarded with horror for that), it did give me shivers and kept me turning pages well into the night. I think fifty or even one hundred years from now, people will still be reading Ghost Story and telling each other what a great book it is.
on March 17, 2001
GHOST STORY is one of the most beloved novels of my adolesence. I read the book at white heat when I was ten, stunned by the power of the imagery and the subtle brilliance of the storytelling. Straub's characters are original and memorable. I visualized them all so strongly that I was deeply affected by all their fates. Fortunately, I have come to regard this book even more highly as time has gone by - I reread it at least once each February and the pacing, elegant language and dazzling images never cease to amaze me. Unlike Stephen King, Straub never goes for the "gross-out" factor in his writing, and as a result, GHOST STORY might seem a little tame in comparison to other horror novels. This is really a book of spine-chilling suspense and slow terror rather than out-and-out horror and gore (although the book does have its bloody parts!). The tale is carefully woven, moving seamlessly from the present to the past to utter fantasy and back again. The plot concerns the fates of four well-to-do men, pillars of their small community of Millburn, New York. Their lives are comfortable, prosperous and settled. But Ricky, Sears, Lewis and John all share a dreadful secret that has come back to haunt them after fifty years. A "Nightwatcher" - a shape-shifting supernatural predator arrives in town and takes revenge on the four men one by one. She has many names (Anna/Alma/Ann-Veronica) and many lives, and seems to take great pleasure in destroying and manipulating ordinary humans, along with her strange undead henchman, the werewolf Gregory. Straub's immortal ghost is one of the great horror villains in recent literature. With the help of young writer Don Wanderley, the group must confront the sins of their past to comprehend what is happening to their town and to them. Anyone familiar with the weather in upstate New York will recognize the isolation that comes with the heavy, unrelenting snows of each winter. Straub's minor characters are expertly drawn, and the town itself, like King's SALEM'S LOT is really a major character too. This is a marvelous work of fantasy-horror which you really should not read alone at night! P.S. The movie GHOST STORY is simply awful - don't bother with it!