…like he’d be a good enemy.” ~Ann-Veronica Moore
(From Ghost Story, by Peter Straub, 1979)
This is the 3rd novel in a long list still yet to be read and commented on in my “Readings in the Genre” course.
While Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House” was disappointing, and Richard Matheson’s “Hell House” was much better than the previously mentioned novel, Peter Straub’s "Ghost Story" is a piece difficult to compare to the other two. It’s not that it was a “better” novel, it’s just that it was written on a totally different level. It was a different kind of story that didn't involve a haunting as much as it involved a macabre creature existence (a manitou/ shape shifter) and the evil havoc it can wreck on The Chowder Society as well as various persons who live in Milburn, New York.
As I read this book, I found myself entranced with Straub's language and choice of words. I enjoyed the varying characters and different points of view he wove into the tale and I liked how he left things for the reader to wonder and read about in the story such as the little girl (Annie Maule) in the prologue, and a woman named Eva Galli who is intermittently mentioned in the pages but never fully explained until later. The way Straub put the story together in a complex puzzle was thoroughly enjoyable. It was fun to try to figure things out along the way, and to try to sort out why certain things were happening.
Straub's imagery was lovely in the novel. As an example, on page 31 he wrote about the leaves falling from trees, describing them with, "...black skeletal arms and fingers, the bones of the trees,..." and his ability to paint a scene with words, I felt, was phenomenal. He didn't do the usual things to annoy me such as overuse adverbs or plod on with a ton of nonessential backstory. Straub kept me engaged throughout the entire tale, and I enjoyed 'wondering' about parts of the story that weren't fully explained until later. This approach also made me feel a little better about things I wait in my own stories to explain. In critique groups, people will often say, "This needs to be explained more..." only because they want to know right away. But if I feel it serves the story to wait to make an explanation, then it IS okay to do so providing it's done the right way. I think it's fine to let the reader have some niggles of wonder in the story.
I wrote Peter Straub and asked him how much research he did on the novel, and he told me that the only thing he researched for the book was the type of beer the locals drank. Despite that, I feel he must have had some sort of experience in Milburn, New York. I've traveled through New York state, and it is nothing like the city. Its backwoods, backward countryside is unnerving and can creep out the hardiest of souls in some places.
Having just finished reading the novel, I may have some more thoughts on it later but for now I'm mulling it around in my gray matter and looking over some of the passages I enjoyed most. In particular, the initial descriptions in Sears's story of Gregory during his supposed 'Ghost Story' were wonderful and left me with odd dreams in the middle of the night. I think I shall sleep, and perhaps dream a little more, and maybe I'll hear a bump in the night...
Artwork by ~spec: http://browse.deviantart.com/?q=ghost&order=9&offset=72#/d2pep3