If the roads are clear enough to allow access to a library or bookstore, grab a copy of The Ghost Notebooks, then bunker down at home. This new horror novel from Ben Dolnick uses ghostly possession to describe the terrifying anxiety that comes with modern adulthood. The Ghost Notebooks follows a young musician through a destroyed engagement and a haunted house/museum.
Hipster musician Nick Beron feels like his career and his relationship with museum curator Hannah Rampe have failed, until the Wright Historic House in upstate New York offers Hannah a job as a caretaker. Nick proposes, she accepts, and the newly engaged couple moves into the house itself and learns the secrets of Edmund Wright, a Victorian-era philosopher obsessed with ghosts and the spirit world. As they plan their wedding and try to adjust to rural life, Hannah begins to unravel, and Nick must confront the supernatural forces working to destroy everyone associated with the Wright House.
Nick finds himself at odds with Hannah’s overprotective parents, the gruff locals, and inmates from a mental institution who don’t bothering going into a bunch of David Copperfield crap, but appear in singular images. They leave deft impressions: a looming father with a opthalmology society coffee mug; a farmer in a stained T-shirt; a face full of whiskers like leg hair. By contrast, the spirits themselves remain without a concrete description, but they make themselves known through action. The spirits show visions of the past, the future, and the lives of other people including their deaths. The horrors stem from the wrong decisions replayed over and over again and future catastrophes that cannot be stopped. Anxiety and introspection become the favorite weapons against Nick as he struggles to navigate a world where his love and passions seem useless.
Haunted house stories walk a fine line between traditional and cliche. Tragedy stalks Nick and Hannah from the moment that they enter the Wright House. It waits until enough local flavor and emotional bonding has occurred to strike, but it hardly comes as a surprise. It seems inevitable that Nick must light the house on fire. How else does one destroy a building without prior planning? Nick’s story ends as he watches the inferno, but this seems like an abrupt end for a first person narrative, presumably told somewhere else than right in front of a burning house.
The Ghost Notebooks focuses on the classic haunted mansion and two millenials who inhabit it. Nick and Hannah, fleeing the pressure of adulthood, find themselves trapped in an internal battle with the supernatural forces that conjure the enemies within themselves. The Ghost Notebooks focuses more on character than plot, but takes the more compelling path of the two.
Recommend for: A lazy weekend spent inside or a long flight. Take time and absorb these characters.
Three stars out of five.
Page count: 236
Favorite Quote: “I’m reluctant to say anything positive about the feeling in the apartment, because the baseline was so awful, but there was — compared, anyway, with suffering alone on my college friend’s futon — something almost cozy about it, recuperative, a sense of huddling around a fire on an inhospitable planet.”