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by Stewart O’Nan

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-374-22215-0
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

O’Nan (Wish You Were Here, 2001, etc.), who’s made a career exploring the dark side, welcomes Halloween with a “ghost story” that soars when the supernatural lets good old-fashioned character take center stage.

In a small Connecticut town on October 31, a night that traditionally culminates in soaped windows, tossed eggs, and bellyaches from too much candy, a group of carousing high-schoolers are laid waste in a car accident. Three die and two live: one seemingly intact, the other severely brain-damaged. A year later, as the exact moment the careening car got wrapped around a tree approaches again, the ghosts of the dead teenagers return to haunt—and observe—the living. Narrated by the ghost of Marco, the self-proclaimed “quiet one,” we meet fellow ghost Danielle (girlfriend of Tim, the one who survived intact); ghost Toe, the speeding driver (who secretly loves Danielle, even in death); and those left behind whose lives were horribly altered by the tragedy. Tim, about to graduate high school without his friends, carries the burden of still existing; Brooks, the cop with a secret who was first at the scene is “fifty-three, in debt, alone, a mess”; Kyle, a former pot-smoking rebel who now can barely tie his shoelaces; and Kyle’s mother, Nancy, who tends her diminished son and mourns her empty marriage. The mildly malevolent ghosts swirl around and play tricks, but the real trauma comes when we’re privy to the thoughts of the living and their attempts to cope with memory and guilt: Nancy making a memorial wreath to hang on the tree; Brooks doggedly tailing Tim in a futile attempt to keep him safe; and Tim, rethinking endlessly his horrible plan to end the pain as the witching hour approaches.

A skilled writer, a complex novel, mixed results.