Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ghost, Ghouls, and Spirits

I adore ghost stories. When I travel, I try to pick up books that chronicle local ghost stories. But my favorite new ghost story is total fiction--Jenny Crusie’s Maybe This Time. What follows is a mini-review and then an invitation for you to share your favorite ghost story with me!

Maybe This Time, Jennifer Crusie’s nineteenth novel, published in September, is a tour de force contemporary gothic romance. Commitment-phobic heroine Andromeda (Andie) Miller journeys to a remote English estate relocated in Ohio to play governess to her ex-husband’s troubled wards. Once there, she falls in love, first, with the kids, then, with her distant ex-husband, North Archer, when he steps in to fix her problem with the resident ghosts who are attached to the two-hundred-year-old house.

Crusie’s Ph.D. roots show in this book as they do in all her works. She uses references, both literal and metaphoric, to Henry James, Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Lewis Carroll, and Mary Stewart. She taps in to the rich literary history that laid the ground work for popular fiction today--those seminal works that gave birth to both the popular romance genre and the popular horror genre.

On her website, Crusie says she “pays homage” with Maybe This Time to Henry James’s 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, a Victorian ghost story. Maybe This Time is a contemporary gothic romance which combines equal parts romance, a woman’s journey tale, and a creepy ghost story. At its core is a love story where second chances are possible. Yet, it’s a riveting, scary ghost story, at times, where no one is safe. The children are in jeopardy and anyone who tries to save the kids are a target of an elusive ghoulish murderer. While this novel is a romance at heart and we know the happy ending is a trope conventional to the genre, the reader worries until the very end if the hero and the heroine will ever reconnect and stay together permanently. It isn’t until the most dangerous and manipulative of the three ghosts, who wants North Archer for reasons that finally become evident at the end, invades Andie’s territory and threatens to take over that we understand what’s truly at stake and why it matters.

Who could have guessed that revisiting the classics of old could be quite so funny, entertaining, sad, scary, or hot for contemporary readers? In Crusie’s masterful hands, a ghost story is all that and more!

Okay, so now you’ve heard all about my new favorite “published” ghost story. (I say published because two of my critique partners--one local and one from school--have wonderful ghost stories pending publication.) Go, grab a copy of Crusie’s Maybe This Time. You’ll love it. I promise. Now . . . tell me all about your favorite ghost story. I dare you.


  1. Excellent review, Candy! And a fun topic to think about...

    Though I'm not a ghost story devotee, I confess a couple
    from both sides of the pond are influencing my WIP. Both "The Legend of
    Sleepy Hollow" and "Tam O'Shanter" are rattling around in
    my head when I think of my setting and some chapters' mood.

    Of course, with that comes how stories like Sleepy Hollow keep evolving. Is Ichabod Crane the arrogant fish-out-of-water schoolmaster? Not these days. Sometimes, like in Johnny Depp's portrayal, he even gets the better of the Headless Horseman.

    A great old ghost story can still be fuel to the fire, can't it?

  2. Yes, Nicole, I think the ghost story tradition harkens back to the earliest days of the oral story-telling tradition. They certainly seem to change to reflect culture in some ways, don't they? I don't think I've heard the Tam O'Shanter story. Care to give me a thumbnail sketch of the tale?

  3. "Ammie, Come Home" by Barbara Michaels. I read it in high school and it scared me so badly I begged my sister to let me sleep in her room for several weeks afterward. And if you knew my sister, you'd know how just how scared I had to be to do that. She just did such a great job of setting and atmosphere and I still, to this day, in a weak moment can imagine that I'm seeing that oily, smoky, swirling presence in a dark corner . . . Ooh! I just hit Amazon and found it on Kindle . . . will it hold up? Tune in some time after NaNoWriMo . . .

    I love ghost stories. Heck, I write ghost stories! Even though I don't *really* believe in them. But I *want* to believe in them!

    I am Fox Mulder. Without the pr0n addiction.

  4. Sure, Candy, but I bet you're gonna say, "Oh! THAT Tam o'Shanter!"

    It's a poem by Robert Burns, written in 1790. Some scholars think it specifically or others like it inspired Washington Irving, Edgar Allen Poe, etc. But we all know how awesome Robbie Burns is no matter what!

    In this tongue-in-cheek poem, Tam, a hen-pecked, ne'er do well, drinks and flirts a little too much at his local pub. On the way home, he sees witches, warlocks, and the devil partying in the churchyard. Tipsy and in no hurry to return to his wife, he stops to watch.

    The witches begin to undress and dance around. A hottie named Nannie catches Tam's eye, especially since her shirt is just a wee bit too small for
    her lovely form. Tam is so drunk and so excited, he cheers out loud for the shirt. Sort of, "Way to go, short shirt!"

    Not too bright, our boy Tam! The witches, warlocks, and the devil chase after him. And if not for the speed of his faithful horse, Meg, they would've caught Tam o'Shanter.

    So you can see the similarities to the Sleepy Hollow story.

    Good stuff!

  5. Oh! And I should add the poem is very atmospheric, very gothic.

    Creeped me out when I was ten.

    Now, it's a joy to read. Like a nod to all the good gothic stuff before it, and inspiration to stories after, and so funny too.

  6. Yvonne ~ I'd love to know if it holds up(after NanoWriMo). :) Good luck. I haven't read this one by Barbara Michaels. I'll look in to it. And, yes, I'm the same way. I love ghost stories even though I don't really believe. But I love the idea of them!

  7. Awesome, Nicole. I'd never read Robert Burns' poem Tam O'Shanter. I'll have to dust off my Norton antholgy (if I can find it). Yes, sounds a lot like old Ichabod Crane . . . a chase and hot pursuit. Hmmmm. Fun.

  8. Candy,
    I love a good ghost story - but I find I get easily scared! I read MTT, and while reading it, thought, oh, I'm not scared! Crusie can't scare me! Then woke up in a panic that night, absolutely KNOWING there was a ghost near me!

    I am amazed when an author can draw out the creepy through atmosphere and the actions/reactions of the characters without being cliched or using a heavy hand.

    Hmm? A favorite ghost story? I love the short tales that you find in books like The Most Haunted Houses in Maryland and the like. It's the personal stories of creepiness that scare me and thrill me the most. (whether or not they can be proven)

  9. Marjanna ~ That's too funny. LOL. I totally understand, though. Crusie does an excellent job of creating that creepy feel (almost horror), but in a subtle way.

  10. Candy - now I'm dying to read the book!! I've never thought about whether or not I "love" ghost stories, but I do love reading paranormal/sci-fi/fantasy so I suspect that means I'm predisposed to enjoy the murky inbetween of life and death.

    Movie-wise, I love The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and, in a more comic vein, Topper with Cary Grant and Constance Bennett. Two more suave and swanky ghosts you'll never meet on the silver screen.

    Kelley Armstrong had a ghost heroine in one of her Women of Otherworld books. A dead half-demon. Difficult to get a happy-ever-after with your main character living in hell, but Armstrong managed and then some!

  11. Keely ~ Yes, I think you are predisposed to like all things paranormal, then. I, too, love the Ghost and Mrs. Muir . . . however when she dies at the end, I'm terribly sad. Can't get beyond that part . . . I know, I know, they're reunited in "ghost-dom" and all that, but still. Her death always gets me.

    I'll have to check out the Kelley Armstrong book and Topper. Love anything Cary Grant. :)

  12. I also love the local ghost story books and when I go somewhere try to find the local ghost tours. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is also one of my favorite movies. It is sad when she dies but to me the sadness is that she waited her whole life for something that she wasn't aware she was waiting for. It is very touching.

    As for books, the most afraid I've been was when I read "The Amityville Horror" as a kid. It was so scary to me that I couldn't finish it. I was staying the summer in my grandparent's 100+ year old house-it had plenty of weird happenings itself-so Amityville reinforced my fears. To this day, if I see a Dutch Colonial style house like the one on the cover, I get chills. I know it was later deemed a hoax but it was very real to me then.

  13. I love the Ghost/Mrs. Muir movie, Topper (don't bother with the sequels though) and also The Sixth Sense. The only book that scared me was Salem's Lot - slept with the cover up/over my chin for months, LOL. Will have to check out the Crusie book - I'm up for something like that. Good review!