Monday, June 22, 2015

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian has become one of my favorite writers. The Double Bind, The Sandcastle Girls, and Skeletons at the Feast were about topics as diverse as a horrible assault on a biker, the Armenian Genocide, and problems facing German citizens on the eastern side of their country as World War II ends. The latest one of his I've read is The Night Strangers published in 2011. This one takes another direction entirely. It's about Chip Linton, a commercial airplane pilot, whose jet crashes in Lake Champlain. Thirty-nine people die in the wreck, so his wife, Emily, and he decide to move with their twin daughters from Pennsylvania to New Hampshire to make a new start. The problem is they move to a place that has its own malevolent history.

Bohjalian has shown he can write historical fiction and he's shown he can weave his characters into the plots of other classic writers without losing a sense of reality. So it should come as no surprise that he can bring ghosts and witches into this novel while still having his readers believe in and care about his characters.

At its core this story is about Chip and Emily's relationship after they've suffered through a major trauma and their relationship with their daughters. It's about psychology as much as it's about paranormal events and that's what makes it a good novel. But there are some interesting aspects to their relationship with their new house as well:

The items that left Emily troubled were the crowbar, the knife, and the ax. She found their presence alarming and was relieved that it was she who had come across them, rather than Hallie or Garnet. She found the crowbar in the back of the closet of the second-floor bedroom that once had belonged to one of the Dunmore boys, a room that was going to be a guest bedroom now. It was upright in a corner and might merely have been there for years, forgotten. The knife was a carving knife with a pearl handle, and while the handle was discolored with age, the blade, though rusted, was sharp as new. Emily found it underneath a wrought-iron heating grate in the master bedroom – what was now her and Chip's bedroom – and she only noticed it because she was considering replacing the dingy black grille with something more attractive from a home restoration catalog And so she happened to spin the grate and there it was. Some of the metal latticework had been sawed off, allowing the knife to be slipped into place – and quickly removed. And, finally, there was that ax – a hatchet, really. She found it behind some ancient (and scarily toxic) cleaning supplies that Hewitt Dunmore had left underneath the kitchen sink. It was the length of her arm from her elbow to the tip of her finger.

Steve Lindahl – author of White Horse Regressions and Motherless Soul

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Ghosts and Trauma in Silence of the Dead by Simone St. James

Silence for the Dead is a ghost story mixed with a story of veterans suffering from PTSD at the end of World War I. Simone St. James' writing emphasizes the characters and the plot rather than the language, a great style for a good storyteller.

The novel is set in England in an era that was not easy for the average person. The soldiers that come back from the war with issues are hidden away. And that luxury is expensive, so it is only available to the men from wealthy families. Instead of compassion, society pushes shame on these warriors. But the military veterans are not the only ones who suffer from a hard culture. Kitty Weekes has nowhere to turn when facing an abusive situation. To survive she has to use her wits and her ability to lie.

The strong characters are the best part of this book. Kitty is impulsive, but caring, a wonderful center for the story. The other nurses have their quirks, but are also interesting and often caring people. Jack Yates, the lead male character, is a bit cliché at times, but I like the way their romance progresses. Some of the patients are wounded physically, but all are dealing with trauma as well as a situation that is unique to the hospital set up in Portis House, an isolated, old mansion that had once been luxurious but is now falling apart.

We live in a time of ongoing wars which makes post-traumatic stress disorder a current and important issue. The best aspect to this novel is how Simone St. James brought this out while telling an interesting story.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions