Novel Review: Ghost Story

Come and see the toys I left for you (448).

An exhausted man drives south. He has on board a reluctant passenger, a little girl. He ties her to himself when they sleep. He asks her questions she may or may not understand, questions about people who died, questions about the town he is fleeing.

He believes she is not what she appears to be.

We retreat into the past, into the ghost stories, where the answers to the mysteries raised by the introduction may be found.

General Information

Title: Ghost Story

Author: Peter Straub

Original Publication Date: 1979

ISBN: 978-0671685638 and 0671685635

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An aging group of men, influential people in their small New England town, meet regularly and tell each other ghost stories—some fabricated, and some absolutely true. They conceal a secret among them, and that secret has returned to touch their lives, and the lives of people close to them.

High Point

The novel features a compelling, disturbing introduction, twenty-six pages of a man on the run, terrified the police might find him, and more terrified of the girl he has kidnapped.

Ghost Story also has at its center an ambitious premise that attempts to explain ghosts, vampires, werewolves, witches, and other things that go bump in the night in a unified manner.

Low Point:

This type of horror has an inherent problem. We need an explanation, or all we’ve read amounts to a bag of tricks. The explanation, however, dissolves the mysteries into something that frequently lacks the terrifying power of the mysterious unknown. Ghost Story requires a lot of exposition to get at his core concept: an ingenuous concept, to be sure, and one which still holds some mysteries. Once we’ve been introduced to the supernatural power at hand, it’s a little less frightening, and the book turns a little too much towards the old school horror movie. The tone seems a bit at odds with the frequently disturbing first half… And then there’s that silly, cheesy green glow, right out of a Scooby-Doo cartoon.

The Scores

Originality: 3/6: Straub’s story, which tries to account for a range of supernatural creatures and phenomena, deliberately echoes Shirley Jackson, H.P. Lovecraft, and many other masters. He even names a characters Hawthorne and James, and the novel directly references Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. He openly acknowledged his debt to King’s Salem’s Lot. King, for his part, called Ghost Story one of the finest horror novels of the twentieth century, and clearly drew on Straub’s book when he wrote It. The novel includes traditional ghost storytelling, old houses, buried secrets, and a creature worthy of the Cthulhu mythos.

Story: 4/6 The tangled webs of stories work together, but the evil force behind events behaves inconsistently because, presumably, it’s entirely unlike us. The results at time seem forced, to bring about a particular event at a particular time.

Characterization: 5/6. Characterization is fairly strong, though the point-of-view characters—who switch frequently—are not as clearly distinguished as they could be.

Imagery: 6/6.

Emotional Response: 5/6.

Editing: 4/6 Straub’s style is a strange mix of the brilliant and the ponderous.

Overall Score: 5/6.

In total, Ghost Story receives 32/42