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Guest Dare: Ghost Story by Peter Straub

Welcome to yet another Guest Dare – the June edition. For those new to the feature, our Guest Dare is a monthly endeavor in which we invite an unsuspecting victim to read a book totally outside of their comfort zone.

This month’s victim – er, guest – is the fabulous Tia from Fantasy Debut. Tia revealed that her most dreaded genres were Horror and Paranormal Romance, and we gave her a tough selection of books to pick from. Finally, she settled on one of Thea’s personal favorites, the classic horror novel Ghost Story by Peter Straub.

Without further ado, we give the floor up to Tia!


Title: Ghost Story

Author: Peter Straub

Genre: Horror

Publisher: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan
Publication Date: 1979
Paperback: 560 pages

Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel

Why did we RECOMMEND this book: It’s one of Thea’s nostalgic favorites (both the book and the film, starring Fred Astaire) – one of those books she read as a young teen that got her into the horror genre in the first place!

Summary: (from
In life, not every sin goes unpunished.

For four aging men in the terror-stricken town of Milburn, New York, an act inadvertently carried out in their youth has come back to haunt them. Now they are about to learn what happens to those who believe they can bury the past — and get away with murder.

Peter Straub’s classic bestseller is a work of “superb horror” (The Washington Post Book World) that, like any good ghost story, stands the test of time — and conjures our darkest fears and nightmares.


Ana, Thea–forgive me. I have failed.

When Ana and Thea challenged me to this Dare, choosing a horror novel was an obvious choice. In all the time I’ve run Fantasy Debut, the only horror novel I covered was Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts by the awesome and incredibly sweet Laura Benedict. She’s so sweet, you wonder how she can write such about such awful things.

Anyway, Ana and Thea gave me a selection of titles to choose from.

Ghost Story by Peter Straub
The Damnation Game by Clive Barker
At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft
Angels’ Blood by Nalini Singh

I probably should have selected the Lovecraft novel for its sheer brevity, but I’ve tried to read Lovecraft before. I much prefer the Cliff Note’s versions of his novels! The Barker and Singh novels put me off too much for various reasons. I selected Ghost Story because it seemed to be the most readable and–to be frank–the least repugnant (sorry!).

It starts with a twenty-plus page prologue. In the prologue, a guy named Wanderley has apparently kidnapped a little girl and is headed south. As they head south, you find that there is something strange about the little girl. Toward the end of the prologue, I wondered if she was even a little girl at all. My interest was piqued.

Then, I started chapter one. The narrative jumped back an unspecified period of time. Four old men, Ricky, Sears, Lewis and John meet on a regular basis, apparently to exchange ghost stories. This started after a fifth member of their society–Wanderley’s uncle–died last year. Turns out there’s a deeper reason they’re exchanging ghost stories. Turns out they were all involved in the death of a young woman years before.

They decide to bring Wanderley in under the dubious–or desperate–credentials that he’s a novelist. He might understand what they’re experiencing.

Part of the reason I don’t read horror is because very often, the protagonists are such unpleasant people that I feel no attachment to them. I didn’t care about any of the old men, and I figured that they probably all deserved their fates. It is a plot-driven story when I’m attracted to character-driven ones. I found the writing too opaque, with long descriptions of such things like what one of the old men experiences as he takes his daily run (he’s a fit old guy, and the youngest of them). And the ghost stories that they men were exchanging weren’t especially scary. At least, they had not gotten scary at the point where I stopped, about 120 pages in.

There was a bit of interest when a mysterious young woman appears on the scene. She is related to the murdered girl of years before, but ultimately it didn’t interest me enough to carry me through.

So, I took up the dare, but I failed. I can’t blame other books, because while the other books I’m reading are interesting, none of them are can’t-put-it-down kinds of books. Do I get points for trying? Will Ana and Thea even want to post this? I do feel bad about not finishing, but at this point, I would have been forcing myself to go on. I hate that. Since Ana and Thea have posted Did Not Finish reviews in the past, I decided to write one for them.

Straub is unquestionably a master writer. But unfortunately, I don’t have any interest in the types of novels he writes. The book is due back to the library tomorrow. My daughter spilled water on it, so they might make me buy it. If they do, I may finish it eventually, but it would probably be too eventual to be any use to Ana or Thea.

Rating: Did Not Finish

Well, shucks. We feel awful that Tia didn’t end up finishing this novel, but we can of course understand where she’s coming from, and we thank her for the heroic effort!

Speaking of Dares, Tia had the gall to counter-Dare us to read one of her favorite novels, The Once and Future King by T.H. White! We’ll be over at her blog with our review of the first book in the series, “The Sword in the Stone,” so make sure to stop by.

Next Month on The Guest Dare: Liz from My Favourite Books is our next guest up on the Dare. Liz revealed that she would be interested in reading something in the SciFi category – and has selected Hyperion by Dan Simmons.

Until next time!

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  • Gerd Duerner
    June 27, 2009 at 4:47 am

    I can totally relate, I think I didn’t get any further in the book when I tried to read it.
    The pity was for me that I though the beginning to be quite scary, but later on the separate parts of the book seemed never really to meet.
    The movie they made from it makes more sense, IMO, and is a great scare throughout.
    One of the cases where I think the the movie tops the book.

  • Angie
    June 27, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    I’m sorry, Tia! DNFs are hard. And I understand how hard it is to go on when you don’t care about any of the characters. It does sound like an interesting setup, though.

  • Tia Nevitt
    June 28, 2009 at 3:44 am

    Thanks, Gerd! At least I’m not alone! Maybe I’ll rent the movie, now.

    And Angie, yes. I do need a reason to care. Wanderley seemed like an interesting character, but the story was taking so long to get back to him.

  • Rolf Gr.
    November 28, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    I’m old enough now. Have read thrillers
    from every decade of the last (and this) century.
    This book was (and is till today) a landmark for the
    Genre of the ‘Thriller’. Any Thriller (Book, Movie,
    or TV) ows to this such a load !!!

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