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Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall received plaudits and some notoriety for his first book, Down to This, which recounted the year he spent living among the homeless in Toronto’s now-defunct Tent City. It’s not a stretch to assume that the experiences that informed the earlier work have spilled over into his first book of fiction.
Mason Dubisee, the novel’s 30-year-old protagonist, is not actually homeless, but he is a frustrated writer who has spent the last five years spinning in a vortex of alcohol and cocaine abuse and gambling debts. His cousin Chaz has found him a place to live in Toronto’s Chinatown, but also keeps him on a steady diet of drugs that impedes Mason’s ability to pay the rent.
When Mason is offered several thousand dollars to write what turns out to be a suicide note, he senses an opportunity. He advertises his ghostwriting services to other potential life-takers and gets an inquiry from Soon, a formerly successful artist still bitter about losing a competition to design the suicide-prevention barrier on the Bloor Street Viaduct. Mason lets himself be persuaded by Soon’s argument that his suicide will be a form of art.
But Mason soon becomes tortured by the guilt of his own success. After signing up for rehab, Mason meets with another potential client, this time with the intention of saving him and redeeming himself. Unfortunately for Mason, the client turns out to be a sociopathic killer with a vendetta.
Bishop-Stall has a brash, masculine style that owes obvious debts to writers such as Hunter S. Thompson and Charles Bukowski. He is at his best when he keeps things light and strange, and the first half of Ghosted is enormously funny. However, the dark territory the novel eventually descends into is uncomfortable for the reader, and the improbable events leading up to it are confounding. Bishop-Stall’s talent and imagination are formidable; he just needs to focus them on his strengths.
"This master of immersion journalism . . . turns his attention to fiction with this novel about a young man who makes a living writing suicide notes. Yes please."
“Lean and mean and with a surprising amount of heart. Make no mistake, Ghosted is for real.”
— Ray Robertson, author of David
“Ghosted is not for the faint of heart—in places it’s an unflinching exploration of depravity. But it is, above all, an often funny, always optimistic parable of victory over demons of despair, the ghosts of our failed selves.”
— Linden MacIntyre, Scotiabank Giller Prize–winning author of The Bishop’s Man
“Bukowski craggy and Hornby sweet, Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall’s Ghosted is a smart book about smart guys who can’t stop from acting dumb. The real pleasure, though, is in the lines: funny sad, funny strange, and funny zing! A hell of a first novel.”
— Andrew Pyper, author of The Killing Circle
“A harrowing and spellbinding tour through the world of addiction that combines elements of Infinite Jest with Silence of the Lambs.”
— Don Gillmor, author of Kanata
“The unique voice heard throughout Ghosted is so heartbreakingly authentic. . . . A terrifying but moving and life-affirming paean to love, friendship, devotion, determination and all those other characteristics that make human beings such wonderfully fascinating creatures in real life and in richly imagined novels like Ghosted.”
— Ottawa Citizen
“A savage, heartfelt, exhilarating first novel . . . Ghosted is, in a nutshell, a book about a guy who becomes a ghostwriter of suicide notes. What makes this high-concept premise work is the book’s a) heart, and b) voice. Which may, in the final analysis, be one and the same thing.”
“Absolutely exhilarating. . . . Bishop-Stall is a major talent. . . . Bishop-Stall has an unarguably unique voice, urgent and impossible to ignore.”
— NOW (Toronto)
“Inventive first novel. . . . Ghosted crackles. . . . Impressive, ambitious and exhausting, Ghosted is a novel for those who don’t scare easily.”
— Kevin Chong, The Globe and Mail