What follow is an account, as I choose to remember it, of my twelfth year on this planet…

Brain matter will squeeze through a keyhole.

We’re a bit behind for a review of this 2018 novel, a sort-of literary/YA Stranger Things set in Niagara Falls, Canada, but it has experienced a surge of popularity this autumn, and so, before we get too far into winter, let’s return to the 1980s and the summer-to-Halloween run of the Saturday Night Ghost Club.

Title: The Saturday Night Ghost Club
Author: Craig Davidson1

First published in April, 2018.

ISBN-10: 0735274827
ISBN-13: 978-0735274822
Available from Amazon.ca, Amazon, and as a kindle.

Premise:

Against his parents’ wishes and warnings, an outsider kid and his new friends join his eccentric Uncle Calvin in exploring the Fortean phenomena that Calvin sees lurking about their home town of Niagara Falls, Canada. Gradually, they become aware of an actual dark presence. It will prove very different from the kind you find in a ghost story.

High Points:

Davidson’s vivid descriptions of Niagara Falls and its hidden history (real, invented, and borrowed2) evoke actual places, filtered through the perception of a twelve-year-old who wants to buy into his uncle’s fascination with the occult forces that hide in plain sight. Readers will be more skeptical, and likely see, just ahead of young Jake, what really lurks behind his uncle’s obsessions, and what joins the disparate mysteries.

Low Points:

I don’t want to overplay the Low Point. To some degree, I expect Davidson intended it. Nevertheless, the depiction of the world surrounding the main story, the mundane places where school and work and the playground intrude, veer a little too far into the tropey and the clichéd.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6 The novel draws upon several popular tropes, though it takes them in an interesting direction.

Imagery: 6/6 Since I’ve already written about the imagery elsewhere, I’ll note here some of the bonus imagery involved in reading a physical copy of this novel. The hard copy features deckle cut pages that make it look like an older work. One of the paperback editions features artificial indications of wear on the cover.

Story: 5/6 The novel uses ghost stories and urban legends to explore the reality of the human mind, but it never feels pretentious or didactic. What most people will remember is the story.

Characterization: 5/6 The characters lean into stereotype, but they’re believable stereotypes.

Emotional Response: 5/6 The book begins as an occasionally whimsical, occasionally dark coming-of-age story, and gradually turns into something more powerful, bittersweet, and memorable. The chills will finally arrive. The monsters are real; they just don’t take the form we expect. We see demons sometimes because the truth about evil can be too difficult to take.

Editing: 6/6 Davidson writes with a strong, economical, and highly readable style, well-suited to the story he wants to tell.

Overall: 5/6 The Saturday Night Ghost Club brings to mind a very different writer, Stephen King. When you pick up one of King’s novels you know it will not be perfect, but it’ll probably be a darn good read.

In total, The Saturday Night Ghost Club receives 35/42

Note

1. Craig Davidson has published fifteen books thus far, some under the pseudonyms Patrick Lestewka and Nick Cutter. These include horror alongside works that have been compared favorably to Chuck Palahniuk’s. We reviewed his Sarah Court back in 2010. Saturday Night Ghost Club includes an internal reference to that novel, and to other works by Davidson.

2. He appears to relocate the Screaming Tunnel of Thorold, Ontario. Granted, one could get there by bike from Niagara Falls within an hour. Here, it appears to be just around the corner for these kids, and in a slightly different setting.