I absolutely love Stephen King. Because of this unobstructed adoration, I tend to divide the horror genre into two sections: 1.) Stephen King, and 2.) Everyone else. The “Everyone Else” category is essentially, in my eyes, generic Stephen King. These authors, including the likes of Dean Koontz and Peter Straub, are just poor imitations of the original. Recently, I decided that maybe this was an unfair judgment on my part, especially considering that I had never before read anything by poor Peter Straub (although I can say with 100% confidence that Dean Koontz will never write anything as good as Watchers). Now, however, I have read Ghost Story, and my initial suspicions have only been confirmed: reading Peter Straub instead of Stephen King is like wearing sneakers from Payless when all I really want is a new pair of Chuck Taylor’s.
Ghost Story chronicles the misadventures of a group of old fogies that have shared a terrible secret for years and years. These men, who have dubbed themselves “The Chowder Society,” meet twice a month to share ghost stories with each other. However, the mutual secret that has long haunted these senior citizens comes back with a vengeance, as the systematic deaths of society members seems to be a bit more than coincidence.
The framework here is simple enough, and the whole group-of-old-friends-with-a-terrible-secret certainly has been done to death. One of my main issues with this particular use of the motif is that in spite of the ensemble, there was only one character that could be sympathized with – Ricky Hawthorne. The rest of the characters are merely bland and underdeveloped in comparison.
Moreover, the presence of so many characters contributes to the overall convolution of this plot. I followed it well enough until I reached the final chapters of the book, at which point I no longer cared about the plot. I think that a shapeshifter featured prominently, but not in any way that contributed to the novel’s entertainment value. In fact, Straub’s allegedly “scary” story has swerved into the territory of campy and absurd.
I was so annoyed by the turn Straub had taken that I took to Amazon’s review section, sure that others would agree with my repulsion. Nope. The Chicago Times Sun raves that Ghost Story is “The scariest book I’ve ever read . . . It crawls under your skin and into your dreams.” This book crawled nowhere by straight into my trash can. It employs cheap scare tactics such as creepy houses, bad dreams, and murder. If executed correctly, these things can be frightening. In this case, they just seem awkwardly strung together and therefore stupid. I think I’ll stick with my Chuck Taylor’s.