Overall, I enjoyed Ghost Story. I think mostly because of the dynamics of the Chowder Society. All the old men who make up the group are well-drawn and very likable. I felt like I was following the stories of four (perhaps five with Don Wanderley; we never really know Edward) protagonists, and that was a good thing in this instance!
I think that one of the more interesting, though potentially confusing, aspects of the novel is the prologue. I don’t know if it did this for other readers, but I feel like it misled me. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – well, it is in a sense. I will explain shortly.
The prologue starts off with a man (Don) who has kidnapped a girl and clearly intends to kill her, though he has a problem doing such a thing. On page four of the prologue, I got the sense that he wasn’t in charge of what happened to the girl, though: “The child was sleeping with her back straight against the seat, her mouth closed. She appeared to be perfectly composed. He still did not know what he was going to have to do to her.” The fact that he’s uncertain what he needs to do with her made it sound to me like he wasn’t the only person involved, that he was perhaps doing this as part of a “job” for somebody else. This was only confirmed for me on page eight when Don asks the girl if she’s ever heard of Edward Wanderley, Sears James, or Ricky Hawthorne. I figured these were the other men somehow involved in this murder, that they were the ones who wanted her dead. In a sense that’s true, but not really. In reality, as we learn later (as in, at the end of the novel), they don’t even know that Don’s kidnapped this girl and is going to murder her.
Nevertheless, this initial “misleading” made me think throughout the entire novel that the ghost that haunts and attempts to kill off the Chowder Society is the little girl that Don supposedly killed in the prologue. I kept trying to make the connection back to her, kept trying to figure out why the Chowder Society had had to kill this little girl, kept trying to find connections to that horrible deed, especially since the members of the Society seemed like such nice men who I wanted to root for.
Anyway, looking back, I realized that I was totally wrong with this assumption. It wasn’t even possible, since the Chowder Society doesn’t even meet Don until later in the book, so how could their supposedly “collaborative” murder of the young girl take place in the past? Looking back, I think part of the reason I was confused is because the full identity of the man in the prologue (Don Wanderley) is only mentioned once. Peter Straub then refers to him as Wanderley after the first time, and as we know, there are a few Wanderleys throughout the story (Edward, David, and Don), so that helped to confuse me. If I had gone back and confirmed that Don was the murderer of the little girl, then I would have known that it couldn’t have been a past event. But going back is not my job as the reader, of course. Also, this book is just full of characters (might I say even bursting?) – right from the beginning – so it was easy for me to forget exactly who was in the prologue, especially with the Wanderley confusion (the Chowder Society starts off talking about Edward Wanderley, who is dead, then segways into sending a letter to his nephew Don). Maybe I’m just easily baffled.
Either way, I was convinced the Chowder Society had killed the young girl a long time ago for a special reason, that they had been blackmailed into doing it or something (which would explain Don’s apparent hesitancy or difficulty in actually killing her). That’s why I was surprised to learn that she wasn’t the ghost at all. It was Eva Galli, a shapeshifter-woman who they accidentally killed in their youth. This made me really want to draw a connection to the young girl who died in the prologue, whom there appeared to be no clues drawn to, and I was finally satisfied to learn at the end that she was the shapeshifter reborn. At least I got my answer, though I felt like I had been misled throughout the entire book. In a way it was a good thing, because a big reason why I kept turning the pages (aside from the fact this is my school assignment) was to finally find out why the Chowder Society apparently kidnapped and killed this girl. But then again, that’s a bad sign for Straub, because he made things a bit unclear, at least for me.
Was anyone else “misled” or confused by the prologue or was it just me?
Source: Straub, Peter. Ghost Story. New York: Pocket Books, 1979.