Three of my favorite novels of 2019 are about ghosts and hauntings. Not always literal ghosts, but even the most literal of the bunch is still pretty metaphorical. What might be the ghosts in your life? What’s the human in the monster?
‘A Cosmology of Monsters’
Shaun Hamill’s debut, “A Cosmology of Monsters,” is a traditional horror novel on the
surface. Margaret and Harry meet-cute in a bookstore, marry and have three children before Harry passes away. But in addition to their human family, there is also Harry’s life project, a haunted house attraction built on their property. Teenage Noah was born on the cusp of his father’s death, but when the family rekindles The Wandering Dark attraction, Noah takes ownership of it even more than his older sisters, the theatrical Sydney and the moody Eunice. And when a monster that Noah calls “my friend” starts scratching at his window, he’s about to see the world differently. A combination of Stephen King, John Irving and “Stranger Things” makes this story the best kind of horror, one that is firmly grounded in reality but teaches us about ourselves and the monsters within.
Finally, in Ann Patchett’s “The Dutch House,” there are the ghosts of a life gone by.
Danny and Maeve grew up in an elaborate home, purchased by their nouveau riche father in the Philadelphia suburbs. When they’re ousted from their house and heritage by an evil stepmother, that childhood upbringing haunts them for decades, often in the guise of conversations while parked outside the property that is no longer theirs. They’re giant ghosts, taking up so much space that lives lived become tiny in comparison. Patchett’s characters are tightly drawn as usual. Maeve has anger that she never gets over until a surprise return softens her in unexpected ways. Meanwhile, Danny remains a man-child who just lets life happen to him. The audiobook, read by Tom Hanks, is sure to be a treat.
‘The Dutch House’
Is there really a monster in Téa Obreht’s “Inland?” Josie, the possibly psychic niece of Nora and Emmett, thinks she sees one and their son Toby does, too. And Nora has a ghost of her own, that of her daughter Evelyn, who died on the parched land as an infant, and is “growing up” in Nora’s imagination. But maybe all these spirits are just the sun, heat and lack of water in the 1893 Arizona territory playing mind tricks. Nora’s tale is interspersed with that of Lurie, a stagecoach robber turned explorer, and it’s clear that the two characters are going to meet. Obreht has written a fresh, literary take on the Western novel. All the tropes are there, the endless land, the endless work, conflict between settlers and natives, the lawman and the rustlers. For Obreht, a Yugoslavian immigrant, to have such mastery over a uniquely American genre is nothing short of brilliant, and her conclusion, as we learn who the creature is, is nothing short of shocking.
Jamie L. Watson is a collection development manager with the Baltimore County Public Library.