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Kiln People
Beth Meacham, David Brin

Ghost Story

Ghost Story - Peter Straub “SF/F/H”, the holy trinity of genre fiction, my neck of the woods for reading. I read a hell of a lot of sci-fi (SF), I read about a couple of fantasy (F) titles a year, but I've been neglecting the horror fiction (H) genre in recent years. The reason is that beside [a:Stephen King|3389|Stephen King|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1362814142p2/3389.jpg] I don't tend to hear much about exciting new horror titles. Sci-fi and fantasy books win the prestigious Hugo and Nebula awards and I am always aware of the winners. As far as I know the equivalent award for horror fiction is the Stoker Award and somehow people don’t seem to talk about them very much. Anyway, to cut a long story short I miss reading horror fiction and want to get back to it.

Ghost Story is Peter Straub’s best known and most popular book, I remember reading it in my teens when it was in the bestsellers list, I remember liking it but for the life of me cannot remember any of the details. Having just reread it this is not so surprising as this is quite a complex story and the title is somewhat misleading. The book is divided into several parts with a nonlinear timeline. It starts off intriguingly with a 24 pages prologue about a man who has kidnapped a strange little girl, but the kidnapper is more afraid of the kidnappee than the other way around. The girl seems to take it all in stride and may, in fact, not be a girl at all. After this prologue the story goes back to a few years earlier where a group of for elderly gentlemen meet on a regular basis to share ghost stories which may or may not be true. They call themselves “The Chowder Society”, apparently there is some kind of therapeutic value for them in telling these stories; there has been an undertone of fear in this little club since one of their members died under mysterious circumstances at a party while in the company of an actress who disappeared.

The next part of the book tells the story of Donald Wanderley, the child kidnapper from the prologue. He is a nephew of the dead club member of the Chowder Society and an author of a horror novel.
After publication of his book he took a temporary job teaching at Berkeley, there he meets and falls madly in love with a mysterious beautiful girl. They get on famously, make wedding plans and one day she just disappears; next thing he knows she meets his brother David in another town, they fall in love and soon David dies under mysterious circumstances. The girl disappears again.

Ghost Story is not a whodunit, but it is not really about ghosts (though a few do show up). The story is quite a complex but not at all hard to follow. A creepy atmosphere pervades the entire book and the reader what is going on with the disappearing girls and the dead people they leave behind. It is meticulously written by Straub. The supernatural element often has a hallucinogenic feel to it and the climax is quite rousing. The characters are well drawn but not particularly memorable. I find that Straub’s storytelling is not as taut as it could be and the pacing drags a little in the earlier parts of the book; too many scenes of the old gents pottering around grumbling. His brand of horror is subtle and often psychological, there is very little in the gore department.

If you are looking for an elegantly written, unusual and complex horror story this is for you, but how many people are looking for such a thing?