The Night Strangers, by Chris Bohjalian (New York: Crown Publishing, 2011)
"From the bestselling author of The Double Bind, Skeletons at the Feast, and Secrets of Eden, comes a riveting and dramatic ghost story.
"In a dusty corner of a basement in a rambling Victorian house in northern New Hampshire, a door has long been sealed shut with 39 six-inch-long carriage bolts.
"The home's new owners are Chip and Emily Linton and their twin ten-year-old daughters. Together they hope to rebuild their lives there after Chip, an airline pilot, has to ditch his 70-seat regional jet in Lake Champlain after double engine failure. Unlike the Miracle on the Hudson, however, most of the passengers aboard Flight 1611 die on impact or drown. The body count? Thirty-nine – a coincidence not lost on Chip when he discovers the number of bolts in that basement door. Meanwhile, Emily finds herself wondering about the women in this sparsely populated White Mountain village –- self-proclaimed herbalists –- and their interest in her fifth-grade daughters. Are the women mad? Or is it her husband, in the wake of the tragedy, whose grip on sanity has become desperately tenuous?
"The result is a poignant and powerful ghost story with all the hallmarks readers have come to expect from bestselling novelist Chris Bohjalian: a palpable sense of place, an unerring sense of the demons that drive us, and characters we care about deeply.
"The difference this time? Some of those characters are dead."
"You see the long, wide, perfectly straight strip of asphalt before you, the hangar to your right with the words GREEN MOUNTAIN BOYS painted in billboard-size letters along the side."
I've had pretty mixed reactions to the last few Bohjalian books I've read. The Double Bind, my first, was a tremendous punch in the gut (yes, in a good way); Midwives was awesome. Skeletons at the Feast and Secrets of Eden, not so much.
Night Strangers was somewhere in between -- probably because Bohjalian tries to weave two stories together here, and one's a lot more compelling than the other. The real ghost story -- Chip struggling with his visions of those of his dead passengers who haven't yet been able to let go of their lives on earth -- is fascinating, poignant, sad, and sweet. The whole herbalists thing, though? Not very interesting. First of all, the ladies of Bethel -- who seem to have a WAY higher number of greenhouses per capita than the national average, and who all have odd floral names like Anise, Reseda, and Clary -- just come off as too weird and even nasty from the get-go, which makes it hard to get drawn into their story line. More importantly, even Emily notices this ... and it's just plain too much to believe that this lawyer/ mother, already torn up over uprooting her daughters' lives for the sake of her husband's recovery, would ignore every initial suspicious/ hinky feeling she has about the plant ladies and move so quickly from, "Hmm, why are these old biddies so unnaturally interested in my tween girls?" to "Oh, well, let's just have the girls stay with them after school every day." And I really didn't like the ending -- not because it was particularly upsetting (which was probably the effect the author was going for), but just because it's not well set-up and not very believable.
- Ithaca, New York
- MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.