Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ghost Story

Eva: I will take you places you've never been. I will show you things that you have never seen and I will see the life run out of you.

It's Halloween, Halloween!! So of course I have to acknowledge the things that go bump in the night. What's your favorite Halloween movie? I am not big into the horror genre of today's world and find the old movies I grew up on like Frankenstein, The Wolfman and of course Dracula as so much more my cup of tea. But ghost stories always leave me a little short of breath and so hard to turn the light out at bedtime.

Although this book's cover is hardly frightening looking and has absolutely no gorey, bloody, spooky appearance, once you have read it that little cover will send chills up your spine.

I have to rate this book as one of my all time scariest reads. It still haunts me to this day. I became so frightened after reading it that I actually threw the book away, I couldn't bear to have it in the house with me, as if the story could actually pop out of the book and drag me into it. And I am a book rat pack collector, I love books and find it hard to part with most of them. But this one, scared me like no other book ever has.

Here are some reviews:

For four aging men in the terror-stricken town of Milburn, New York, an act inadvertently carried out in their youth has come back to haunt them. Now they are about to learn what happens to those who believe they can bury the past — and get away with murder.

Peter Straub's classic bestseller is a work of "superb horror" (The Washington Post Book World) that, like any good ghost story, stands the test of time — and conjures our darkest fears and nightmares.

"The scariest book I've ever read....It crawls under your skin and into your dreams." Chicago Sun-Times
"The terror just mounts and mounts." Stephen King
"I jumped six inches...when someone came up behind the chair when I was reading it and announced that dinner was ready." Christopher Lehmann-haupt, The New York Times
"Gave me bad dreams the first night out...the best thing of its kind since Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House." Peter S. Prescott, Newsweek

The story begins like this..................

What's the worst thing you've ever done? Ghost Story, one of Peter Straub's better-known ghost stories, starts out with this question. It's a haunting question, if you think about it. Everyone has their own little secrets, some which would disturb even the best of us. You never know what those close to you are hiding. Not to mention the things that you hide from everyone. You know there's something that you never tell anyone, that you'll take with you to your grave. And what is it? I won't tell you that, but I'll tell you the worst thing that ever happened to me... the most dreadful thing.....

'Ghost Story' depicts a cross-section of the inhabitants of the imaginary small upstate New York town of "Milburn," who gradually become aware that they, their families, and Milburn are being stalked by a clan of alien, inhuman "Nightwatchers" or "Shapechangers," demonic tricksters capable of assuming outward human form who enjoy playing sadistic games with humans. The "Shapeshifters" or "Nightwatchers" are long-lived, quasi-immortal creatures whose true or basic form, as implied in a few passages of the book, is that of a sort of insect, but who can and do frequently assume various human and animal disguises. The "Nightwatchers" hate and despise Humankind, and their main pastime is to drive their chosen human victims to insanity and suicide by assuming the outward form of the girl of your dreams or a long-lost parent, brother, sister, or friend, exploiting their victims' sexuality, compassion, or loneliness, and then disappearing after playing a few very cruel twists. They often "pick on" a family, playing with the feelings of its members for several generations on end, or a whole small town (like Milburn).

The particular "Shapeshifter" clan that has decided to play its cruel games with a few Milburnites and their families appears over and over again, down through the years and in many places around the world as well as in Milburn itself, in the form of a beautiful and intriguing but cold, cruel, and heartless woman with the initials A.M., a handsome but sinister young man named Greg or Gregory, and Gregory's mentally retarded 10- or 12-year-old nephew or kid brother with the initials F.B. At the same time, the Nghtwatchers"simultaneously also torment and "spook" Milburn by producing animal mutilations and "Bigfoot"and UFO sightings - basically, playing their sadistic exploitative emotional games with members of Milburn's educated upper-middle-class cultural elite, and doing the UFO, Bigfoot, animal mutilation, and weird footprints in the snow bit with the local proles and Archie Bunkers. However, on several occasions the "Nightwatchers" also "spook" their upper-crust victims as well with blatantly supernatural stuff: like levitating in full view of a father whose love-struck son their beautiful"daughter" has just driven to suicide!

Straub's 'Ghost Story', by the way, also features what at first glance looks like an inbred, dysfunctional, genetically challenged family of mentally retarded rural ne'er-do-wells of the Jukes or Kallikak type living in incestuous squalor in a tar-paper shack in the boondocks of upstate New York. The Bates of Four Forks, however, turn out to be something far more weird
and sinister.

Straub's 'Ghost Story' is mainly set in the seemingly quiet, pleasant, sleepy upstate New York town of "Milburn," and initially focuses on the "Chowder Society." The "Chowder Society" is a little club of four elderly, moderately well-to-do gentlemen from locally prominent and respected Milburn families who periodically meet in evening dress at each other's houses to
exchange stories of every kind, including ghost stories and tall tales. 'Ghost Story' begins shortly after a party at which one of the Chowder Society members, Edward Wanderley, had died - or
was killed. The Chowder Society, who for years had met in evening dress to tell each other tales of every kind, now find themselves drawn toward the supernatural, as some sort of solace
for Edward's loss. They begin to tell ghost stories, ghost stories that do not always stop when the teller has finished speaking.

The Chowder Society members next begin having dreams shared simultaneously by all of them forecasting horrors the four elderly gentlemen can scarcely bring themselves to discuss. From
farms surrounding Milburn come reports of animal mutilations:

animals assaulted and drained of blood in the fields. As the cruelly cold winter settles in, freak incidents seem to escalate in and around Milburn, forming themselves into a sinister scheme
of chaos and terror.

Edward Wanderley's nephew Don, an aspiring novelist and English teacher at Berkeley, returns to Milburn from California, with his own pressing personal reasons for wanting to join the
defense against whoever - or whatever - is perpetrating these obscene outrages. As he and the reader gradually discover, Milburn is up against a macabre cast of characters who appear and tauntingly reappear in different guises throughout 'Ghost Story' and who have the power to insinuate themselves wilfully upon the mind.

Don Wanderley and the Chowder Society discover that over the years they themselves or people they know have all experienced encounters with "Nightwatchers" or "Shapechangers" in disguised human form. The "Nightwatchers" are entities that derive a sadistic amusement from toying with the feelings of their human victims and driving those victims to despair, violence, or
suicide. The Chowder Society gentlemen, Don Wandereley, and a teen-aged Milburn boy, among others, all learn that they, close friends, or close relatives have at one time or another all met
shape-changing "Nightwatchers" motivated by hatred of Humanity capable of assuming the form of the perfect girl of one's dreams, of a dead parent, brother, or friend, or of a lonely,
abused or friendless child yearning to be rescued and befriended. The long-lived, almost though not quite immortal Nightwatchers are very patient, if need be quite willing to wait and try again a half century later if thwarted the first time in their effort to destroy a victim - or to pursue the intended original victim's family. They also have a sadistic playfulness, delighting in tantalizing their victims with elaborate clues and inside jokes about their true identity. They love to play jokes, and to slyly flaunt themselves.

The Nightwatchers sometimes torment, confuse, and madden their victims by assuming the appearance of a dead brother, parent, or friend. However, they most frequently take the form of an alluringly beautiful and seductive but ultimately cold, cruel, and heartless young woman with the initials A.M. (Alma Mobley, Amy Monckton, Anna Mostyn, Ann-Veronica Moore, etc.), a
sinister, dissolute, evilly handsome youth named Gregory, and Gregory's mentally retarded teen-aged younger brother or nephew.

Those three recur continually throughout 'Ghost Story' under various guises - cropping up in the present and half a century ago, and in Milburn, in a rural "Tobacco Road" community, in San
Francisco, in New Orleans, and elsewhere. My own two favorite episodes of 'Ghost Story' are a Chowder Society member's reminiscences of his youth as an idealistic schoolteacher and his terrifying run-ins with Fenny, Gregory, and Constance Bates in a one-room rural schoolhouse and tar-paper "Tobacco Road" shack in the 1920's, and Don Wanderley's Berkeley/San Francisco romance with the enchantingly beguiling, too-perfect, ultimately terrifying "Alma Mobley."

The Bates family at first seem just a pathetically flagrant case of Jukes- or Kallikak-like rural "white trash" cultural, intellectual, economic, and genetic deprivation cemented by abusive homosexual brother-brother incest on top of all their other problems - but soon turn out to be in fact something far, far worse and scarier. I got a real kick out of the scene where the teacher is shown Gregory Bates' GRAVE by the local Lutheran pastor, who had been exiled by the Lutheran hierarchy to the boondocks for his obsession with "hermetic matters," as indicated by his private library with its little collection of Lully, Fludd, Bruno, and books on witchcraft and Satanism. No doubt the good Rev. Gruber's library also included the 'Necronomicon' of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred! The good pastor's revelations, and the retarded Fenny Bates' voodoo-like voluntary suicide by heart stoppage, disabuse the young teacher of his idealistic dreams of rescuing and uplifting the unfortunate, impoverished Bateses.

Half a century later, the young novelist, teaching English at Berkeley, meets in "Alma Mobley" a girl who at first seems too good to be true - but grows progressively spookier, more unnerving, and ultimately more terrifying and hateful. She turns out to have had an affair a year or two earlier with his half-brother who had then committed suicide, and to be involved with a cult called the OTO (Ordo Templi Orientis) in the hard-cover version of 'Ghost Story', and the XXX (Xala Xalior Xlati) in the paperback edition. He discovers her to hang out with a sinister,
disreputable drug dealer named Greg Benton and his mentally retarded kid brother, supposedly old home-town neighbours of hers from New Orleans - a pair whose descriptions are almost
identical to those of the rural "Tobacco Roaders" Gregory and Fenny Bates a half century earlier! After his breakup with Alma Mobley, Don Wanderley does a bit of detective and library
research work, and discovers that all her autobiographical references to her own family are fake - but based on the true family story of a New Orleans artist some 20 or 25 years earlier whose young son had committed suicide after an ill-starred romance with a beautiful and enchanting but weird girl named Amy Monckton who had inveigled him into a bisexual threesome, drug
abuse, and voodoo worship with her handsome but dissolute and sinister family chauffeur Gregorio!

There is a 1981 movie of this book, http://http://www.uk.imdb.com/title/tt0082449/
starring Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and John Houseman as the Chowder Club members. I think this is the only movie I have ever seen Fred Astaire in that he doesn't dance, and actually was quite good in. Of course the movie just can't quite pull off the horror like the book did.

And writing this now so many years later after reading the book, I realize how these beings sound very modern day, reptilian, shapeshifters, and like the gnostic demons called "Thetans" by L. Ron Hubbard.

I'm sleeping with the lights on!


Sarah said...

I have got to read this book. Hint hint- Christmas!

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FeeFee Braids said...

This book scared the crap out of me 20 years or more ago. And i still re-read it. Even reading this review is giving me chills and making me want to read it all overview again at the same time. Classic creeps.

jett woodward said...

I'm still waiting for them to remake it as a TV miniseries.