‘Ghost Story’ by Peter Straub

  Milburn, N.Y., is a small town haunted by ghosts.
  A handful of old-timers, whose group is dubbed the Chowder Society, become rattled after one of their own dies suddenly. They begin to wonder if they should continue their group meetings.
  Ricky knew that none of them could bear not to. And then he had had his inspiration: he had turned to John Jaffrey and said, “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?”
  Dr. Jaffrey had surprised him by going pink; and then had set the tone of all their subsequent meetings by saying, “I won’t tell you that, but I’ll tell you the worst thing that ever happened to me — the most dreadful thing …” and following it by telling what was in effect a ghost story. It was riveting, surprising, frightening … it took their minds off Edward. They had gone on like that ever since.
  The members of the Chowder Society, made up of Lewis Benedikt, John Jaffrey, Sears James and Ricky Hawthorne after the death of Edward Wanderley, don’t know that their ghost stories are about to invade their dreams, and from their dreams, into reality.
  The men are dogged by nightmares, and after pooling information, they soon come to the conclusion that a dark secret from their youth is clawing its way out of the grave in which they buried it. And the members of the Chowder Society won’t be the only ones to pay for the sins of the past.
  Peter Straub’s “Ghost Story” (published in 1979 and turned into a movie in 1981) has been lauded by critics as “superb horror,” a “terrifying novel,” “so scary you’ll turn up the lights.”
  I don’t know about all that.
  Scary? Certainly. Superb? Eh.
  Straub makes use of too many storytelling techniques. He shifts from past to present, jumps from narrator to narrator (and there’s a lot of them), and uses journal entries to further the plot. I found it all a bit confusing. It was hard to keep track of all the characters and where they were in the story timeline.
  Aside from that, which wasn’t a big enough flaw to make me put the book down, I did enjoy “Ghost Story.” The story really builds momentum, and by the midway point, I was reading huge chunks of the book at a time.
  Then he heard the noise he had been dreading: it shouldered through another doorway. The noises from downstairs were suddenly louder — he could hear the thing breathing. It was at the bottom of the staircase.
  He heard it hurl itself at the stairs. … Ricky’s face was wet with perspiration. What most frightened him was that he couldn’t be sure if he were dreaming or not: if he could be certain that this was only a dream, then he had only to suffer through it, to wait until whatever it was down there got up to the top of the stairs and burst into the room — the scare would wake him up. But it did not feel at all like a dream.
  There are some really spooky scenes in “Ghost Story,” and the novel has weathered the years well. I imagine more than one reader will leave the light on in the hopes of staving off nightmares.

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