Updated: Jul 16, 2019
"Everyone has been afraid, sometime. Everyone has felt fear close a cold hand around the heart, tug at the scalp and send the blood racing wildly. Everyone has been afraid. But none so afraid as the terror-stricken men and women of Milburn. Called by a supernatural force to answer for a supernatural sin. Sentenced in the evil heart of darkness to live out a ... Ghost Story."
Don Wanderley is a writer who happens to meet a supernatural being, and this meeting causes his life to be turned upside down in the novel 'Ghost Story.' Wanderley's brother and uncle both die of strange circumstances, leading him to seek how their deaths came to be. What Wanderley finds is that they were both infatuated with two women: Alma Mobley and Ann- Veronica Moore; Mobley just so happens to be Don's ex-fiance'.
Even if it seems so, Wanderley is not the main character of this book, instead, we meet four older gentlemen who have been friends the majority of their lives: John, Lewis, Ricky and Sears. The four have created what they like to call 'the Chowder Society,' where they meet up in suit and tie at one of their houses to tell ghost stories. Sears tells one ghost story that will haunt them the rest of the book about his time as a teacher in a rural town known as Elmira: "Well, one of the most dreadful things in my life happened to me there, or it didn't happen and I imagined it all, but anyhow it scared the pants off me and eventually made it impossible for me to stay on. This is the worst story I know, and I've kept it locked up in my mind for fifty years."
After that story, strange things begin to happen in Milburn; a farmer named Elmer Scales, reports that his sheep have been slaughtered by having their throats slit and completely drained of blood, but there are no footprints nor blood stains where the sheep were killed: " 'Their throats were cut,' Elmer said to his wife. 'What did I tell you? Some crazyman's been out here. And -' his voice rose ' - a crazyman who can fly, because he didn't leave no prints.' "
When the reader finds out that the four life long friends have a dark secret that has seem to come back to haunt them, we witness them being killed off by a supernatural force, one by one. This story brings not only a great cast of characters and amazing story telling, but also twist and turns that are not seen from a mile away, like most paranormal thrillers have today.
The supernatural force readers are introduced to is a shape shifter, who takes on forms from a werewolf to a vampire " When he took off the dark glasses his eyes shone a uniform golden yellow. " But the book is not lacking on ghosts, either : "Then she saw a figure moving around out there and Nettie, who understood more than even her sister credited, fearfully watched it approach the house and barn. She uttered a few choked sounds, but knew that Rea would never hear them. The figure came nearer, hauntingly familiar. Nettie was afraid it was the boy from town Rea talked about - that wild boy in a rage that Rea had named him to police. She trembled, watching the figure come nearer across the field, imagining what life would be like if the boy did anything to Rea; and then squawked in terror and nearly tipped over the wheelchair. The man walking toward the barn was her brother Stringer, wearing the brown shirt he'd had on the day he died: it was covered with blood, just as it had been when they'd put him on the table and wrapped him in blankets, but his arms were whole."
The entire story takes place in the town of Milburn, with a few scenes outside of it, but because of this, there are so many secondary characters introduced that the reader may find themselves back tracking through the book just to remember who all of them are. On top of that, a lot of the characters are so much alike, that description can't even help tell who is who. Even our four main characters have similar descriptions, other than girth, that it takes a couple of chapters for readers to put a face to a name. Only some secondary characters become important enough to remember near the end of the book, this including a teenager named Peter.
'Ghost Story' is among the few paranormal books that can stand on it's own. There are scenes of hallucination that out-do those of the top paranormal writers of today. One of the most memorable scenes is with the character Lewis: "Lewis moved back and forth on the floorboards, willing his friends to return with the farmer's car. He did not want to look at the covered shape on the bed; he went to the window. Through the greasepaper he could see only vague orange light.. He glanced back at the sheet. 'Linda, ' he said miserably. " - the scene quickly changes - "He stood in a metal room, with gray metal walls. One light bulb hung from the ceiling. His wife lay under a sheet on a metal table. Lewis leaned over her body and sobbed. 'I won't bury you in the pond,' he said. 'I'll take you into the rose garden.' He touched his wife's lifeless fingers under the sheet and felt them twitch. He recoiled. "
When the ghost story is finally revealed from the main characters' past, pieces of the puzzle begin to fit together. To not give away too much, here is a portion of that story: " 'She said she was lonely,' Ricky said. 'Said she was sick of this damned town and all the hypocrites in it. She wanted to drink and she wanted to dance, and she didn't care who was shocked. Said this dead little town and all its dead little people could go to hell as far as she was concerned. And if we were men and not little boys, we'd damn the town too.' "
While our main characters are being killed off one by one, the town of Milburn is going through an odd blizzard that seems to put everyone on edge: " People settled down in front of the television and ate pizzas from the freezer and prayed that the power lines would stay up; they avoided one another. If you looked outside and saw your next-door neighbor fighting up his lawn to get to his front door, he looked unearthly, transformed by stress into a wild ragged frontier version of himself: you knew he'd damage anyone who threatened to touch his dwindling store of food. He'd been touched by that savage music you had tried to escape, and if he looked through your Thermopane picture window and saw you his eyes were barely human."
Although 'Ghost Story' was published in 1979, it still has a big impact on the way the paranormal genre is written today. Straub not only makes a convincing story line, but he also makes characters that the reader can actually care about. Even when we find out what has been going on in the small town of Milburn, the reader can still feel a very real threat from the supernatural force within it. 'Ghost Story' is by far the best paranormal thriller I have ever read. I highly recommend this book to anyone who believes that the past can come back to haunt you.