Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ghostwriting No. 23: The Ghostlist

A few words as we approach the Halloween season.

1. One of the things I hate about this time of year is having to tell people that no, we do not have cold spots or blood dripping down the walls. They get so disappointed. Alas, it is fact. We also don't hear voices or footsteps, and I'm sorry, we do not give haunting tours.

2. That said, we do have a small section especially for books about ghosts. While ghosts have not lately been hypersexualized, deprived of historic symbolism, or given supporting roles in blockbuster movies about teenaged girls getting whatever they want, they are nonetheless rich with character possibility. Let me recommend a few favorites:

- Anything by M. R. James. I'm not just saying this because there are so many beautifully described books and libraries in these stories. They are also sterling examples of the short suspense craft. Also they have gorgeous books in. Did I mention the leather bindings?

- Anything by Sheridan le Fanu. Using the frame of the reflections of a doctor with special interest in psychology, this author successfully spooks the reader with a little reverse psychology: what the doctor doesn't tell you will keep you up at night.

- The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Brief, evocative, and full of the sense that even scarier than things that go bump in the night is the astonishing capacity of the human mind to anticipate and dread disaster.

More recent books:

- The Mercy of Thin Air by Ronlyn Domingue. Narrated by a ghost, this novel is really about strong women in two different lucrative decades facing unacceptable gender norms, but the ghost is also a genuinely likeable prankster with some keen observations about women, life, power, and the hindsight that gets more twisted the more one tries to fight upstream.

- A Fine and Private Place by Peter Beagle. The protagonist, a homeless man shacked up in a crypt with an unlocked door, watches the dead struggling with disembodiment. It takes observing a particularly complicated posthumous love affair, dodging the verbal assaults of a particularly insightful crow, and uncertainly accepting kindness from a very lively widow to bring this man back from the proverbial grave(side).

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