The Haunting Season: Eight Ghostly Tales for Long Winter Nights
Bridget Collins, et al
Pegasus Books, 304 pages, $32
The traditional British ghost story can be roughly divided into two categories: the Tale of Wonder and the Tale of Terror. In the first, the haunting, though initially frightening, brings harmony or positive change to the haunted (as in “A Christmas Carol”); in the second, the ghost is either a ruthless instrument of vengeance/justice or is just plain malevolent. Devotees of the first category might want to avoid “The Haunting Season.” The eight original stories collected here bristle with malevolence and terror, and offer no comforts to the haunted protagonists. The stories’ brooding atmosphere, strong sense of time and place (most of the stories are set in the Victorian period), and elaborate narrative structures mimic the classic British ghost story while slyly commenting on the country’s troubled past and present. A stellar collection.
Flame Tree Press, 224 pages, $32.99
Any protagonist who makes it past the third night in an obviously haunted house without heading for the hills is probably not a gifted decision maker. All the signs are there — the creaks and groans, the ghostly whispers, the overpoweringly hostile supernatural presence — and yet the new arrival goes about his or her business pretending, hoping, that the haunting can be rationally explained. Terri Foxworth, the protagonist of J.H. Moncrieff’s “The Restoration,” evinces decision-making skills atrocious even by the lax standards of the haunted house novel. Foxworth is over a barrel, however, so desperate for financial and life stability that she clings to her job restoring the storied Glenvale mansion long after her and her daughter’s safety is threatened by a nasty entity. An entertaining read in spite of Foxworth’s sometimes head-scratching decisions.
Where They Wait
Simon & Schuster, 400 pages, $34.49
“Propulsive” is an adjective much beloved by book blurbers and reviewers in need of a quick label to describe a fast-moving narrative. In the case of Scott Carson’s “Where They Wait,” the moniker fits — in a good way. Storytelling and action reign supreme in this story of an out-of-work journalist, Nick Bishop, who returns to his hometown to write a fluff piece on a local tech startup for a university alumni magazine. As part of the job, Bishop unwisely agrees to test out the company’s signature mindfulness app, Clarity, which claims to be able to re-engineer a sleeper’s dreams. Soon, Bishop can’t distinguish between dreams and reality. The Clarity app’s effects are genuinely creepy, evoking the strange interior logic of a dream or an ancient folk tale, and filling out the “propulsive” narrative.
The Ghost Sequences
Undertow Publications, 350 pages, $22.99
A.C. Wise’s complex, allusive stories defy tidy synopsis. Characters are never who they seem to be, either to the reader or to themselves, and the flow of time seems to shift back and forth like an errant tide. Luckily for the reader, Wise’s sentences and images are so artfully constructed that it is not difficult to enter miniature worlds contained in each story. The title story is a particular standout, with four artists stranded at an exhibition during a blackout trading ghost stories that soon escape their narrative boundaries into the real world. The incantatory power of art is also at the core of “I Dress My Lover in Yellow,” in which a researcher’s obsession with a strange painting triggers a very real haunting.
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