I have to begin with a shameful confession: I had not read anything by Peter Straub before reading Ghost Story. I know, shameful, especially considering that I consider myself pretty well read in the horror genre. And when I was hardly able to put the book down despite its 567 pages, I realized I’d been missing something.
The opening pages of Ghost Story were some of the most compelling I’ve ever read. I was immediately drawn into the story of Don Wanderley and the strange little girl. Why were they together and where had he gotten her from? Her oddness was one of the main things that captured me. What kind of kid was this who had a different name every time he asked her? And what kind of child said things like, “You shouldn’t ask me those questions?” (Straub 14). When she responded to question from the storekeeper they encountered as to whether or not Don was her daddy and she responded, “Now he is” (Straub 17), I was convinced that I had to finish the story to find out who this kid really was.
But the intrigue deepened. When Don asked her what she was and she responded, “I am you” (Straub 26), I rushed to the back of the book. I’m a notorious spoiler seeker, often reading the ending of books after I read the opening chapters but before I read the rest. Even though it seemed the ending of Ghost Story was a continuation of the opening, it didn’t answer any of the questions swimming around in my head about Don and the creepy kid.
Once the story shifted to Ricky Hawthorne in the quaint little town of Milburn, I knew I was in for quite a yarn and Straub did not disappoint. Ricky and his fellow members of the Chowder Society were rich characters. Even without knowing what their secret was, I knew all the men had been deeply wounded by it, and I also suspected that the secret had something to do with a woman because of the fates of their individual relationships with females. Ricky withstood serial cheating by his wife Stella. Sears James was a lifelong bachelor. Lewis Benedikt had survived the death of his wife to go on to being a playboy who slept and maintained relationships with the married women in town, one of whom was Ricky’s wife. John Jaffery maintained a long term relationship with his housekeeper without ever marrying her, but giving her the perks of being the lady of the house once behind their closed doors. Edward Wanderley was also unmarried.
The two fledgling members of the Chowder Society, Don Wanderley and Peter Barnes were not exempt from the relationship issues. Don had had a bad track record with women, with the only woman he ever really loved having gone on to become engaged to his brother. Although Peter was too young to have begun serious relationships with women, the one he had with his mother was strained; especially once he figured out she was being unfaithful to his father. I suspect that Peter grew into adulthood to encounter his own problems with women.
The society to which the men belonged was an exceptional example of a male community where the members are closer to one another than they are to even their significant others. They often shared intimacies within their group that they did not share with others. It didn’t seem to bother them that their domestic spheres were in shambles; as long as they had one another, they would all be okay. They were also psychically in tune with one another, their encounter with the supernatural notwithstanding.
And what a supernatural encounter it was. Ghost Story had an obvious creep factor. Besides the strange little girl in the beginning, readers are drawn skillfully into a world where animals are killed without any blood being spilled and where the occurrence is readily accepted as one of those things that just happens. Accidentally murdered women sit up in the backseat of cars that they are being drowned in, and grin at the perpetrators. And a timeless spirit by the name of Gregory Bates lives through the years to torment men from three different generations.
If there was any disappointment with Ghost Story, I’d have to say that it was the ending that really wasn’t an end. I understand that the horror genre is not about wrapping up things in tidy little happy endings, but I was so emotionally vested in the characters of the novel that I wanted there to be a real end to the terror they’d endured. To know that Eva Galli would live forever to plague the men and their families until the end of time made me feel that all they had gone through was for naught. But it was a richly told nightmare.
Straub, Peter. Ghost Story. New York: Pocket Books, 1980. Print.