Friday, March 14, 2008

I'm Looking Through You

I'm Looking Through You by Jennifer Finney Boylan

In my capacity as editor of Southern Gothic and Postcards From..., I see a lot of ghost stories. It's damned hard to write a good ghost story without slipping into cliche, because the ghost is the very unliving embodiment of horror cliche. Even great writers find themselves struggling with ghost stories.

Jennifer Finney Boylan can write ghosts, Jack. I don't often get a chill reading a book , but I definitely suffered a few chills reading this one. Funny thing, it's non-fiction, but it reads like the best fiction, which, coming from me, is a compliment. Funnier thing, it's not a horror story, which is why it makes a great ghost story.

Just to make a completely unfair comparison, we could probably agree that Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House is one of the great ghost stories of all time (along with Peter Straub's Ghost Story). You can certainly see the early chapters of Hill House in Boylan's description of the Astrid Hotel and environs. But I would suggest that Hill House isn't nearly as good a story as I'm Looking Through You, which also beats Ghost Story hands down. True, they are completely different works of genre - horror fiction versus memoir, but if horror fiction can't achieve the believability of memoir, it fails entirely. And although the final chapter of Looking Through You might verge ever so slightly into sentimentality (but what memoir doesn't?), at least she doesn't plow her car into a tree at the end of the tale.

You've got to appreciate that.

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