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 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 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!
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 October 23, 2000
I was mesmerised by this book for all except the very end of it. Peter Straub has managed to put together an outstanding piece of work that comes to within a whisker of perfection. For 500 pages we travel through places that are effortlessly described by the author; Milburn is so real. The characters are woven into a tight, warm script that never allows the high level of suspense to drop during the entirety of the book. To cap everything, once the mystery is solved, Straub has the good sense to end the book almost immediately instead of going on for the sake of it.
So what is "Ghost Story"? It is not as straight forward as it sounds. Strange happenings start after the death of Edward Wanderley, a member of a group called the Chowder Society that consists of 5 old men who scare each other with sinister stories. The idea of the log fire, the dinner jackets, the cigars and the whisky evokes a magical existence which sets the scene for the whole book. The story never gets out of this ever-so-slightly surreal style which adds to the reading experience. Even when describing harrowing events, the author still gives the effect of watching them through a bubble rather than most stories which plant you firmly at the scene.
I only have a couple of gripes with this novel, and it is these that stop it getting the 5 stars. The first is the manner of the reaction of some members of the cast to the first deaths, particularly of the sheep on Elmer Scale's farm and the Dedham sisters. I do not think they would have been ignored in the way that they were and as a result found the story developed as it did in a way it would not have.
I also had a problem with the constant scene changing towards the end of the book. It was necessary and easy enough to follow up until the climax of the novel, but it continued until the very end where I personally thought it was unnecessary and detracted from the way I think it should have ended. This, coupled with the question of why did Don Wanderley meet Alma Mobley earlier in his life resulted in the book being slightly strained. The fact that Mr. Straub only failed on these very minor points is indicative of his triumph. To keep a ghost story going for as long as he has without it degenerating into mindless gore or distracting repetition is an accomplishment indeed. This book is such a fantastic, engrossing read, I am rather amazed that Peter Straub is not more well known
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 August 1, 2000
Perhaps, I am not as familiar with the horror genre as some of the other reviewers, but I didn't find the book as exceptional as the vast majority of the reviewers. [Warning: do not read any further if you haven't read the book!]
First, I didn't think the idea of having Eva being an immortal hateful supernatural shape-shifter is nearly as compelling as Eva simply being a vengeful ghost (a la movie). I mean, if she is an immortal evil entity, then the initial wrongdoing by the Chowder Society was not nearly as heinous a crime as if they had killed a human, and tried to cover it up. Thus, in the movie, Eva has more of a 'right' to be outraged and vengeful, thus obfuscating the line between the 'good' guys and the 'bad' guys. In addition, the idea of her controlling two henchmen (Gregory and Fenny Benton) - as scary as the two entities were - seemed to somehow diminish the potency of Eva rather than enhance it.
Secondly, though the book is never boring and reads quickly, I did find the build-up to be a bit long. I don't things get really rolling until about 2/3 the way through. Perhaps, it should have been a 400 page book rather than a 567, I don't know.
Having said all this, however, I had particularly vivid mental images while reading the book so Straub definitely is able to evoke atmosphere and dread. But, when I read some reviewers suggesting how they were almost too frightened to read the book at times - I have to wonder if they live in some isolated home in the woods, and were reading the book by candlelight in the middle of the night. As it certainly was not all that scary to me.
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 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 July 6, 1999
I have read every book ever written by Stephen King and every book by Peter Straub (even his out of print books which were very hard to come by) . And yet, I find this to be the best book I have ever read. EVER! The plot is marvelous and the writing is exquisite. I STRONGLY DISSAGREE with all the people who found the ending to be abrupt and bad. The ending showed more feeling and emotion. It is not long and drawn out like some books, and it is not really big. It is only very simple and shows how Don Wanderley's anger with Eva finally pushes him over the edge into a very sudden action which turns out to be very smart. I have seen the movie as well, and found it beyond stupid and whoever wrote that comment obviously is running short on creativity. This is the ultimate ghost story, in which the ghost isn't like in the books that some authors write where it's only back from the dead, but where the ghost is actually alive somewhat. Thus the title is perfectly fit. Peter Straub at his best, I very stongly reccomend reading this book.