Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Vintage: A Ghost Story

After reading Magic in the Mirrorstone, I decided to look around for stories and/or books by the editor, Steve Berman. I enjoyed the facetious commentaries he made on the author bios of Mirrorstone, plus he was kind enough to drop by this blog and leave us a note (not facetious.) I had a feeling I might like his fiction. Sure enough, we had his book Vintage: A Ghost Story in our collection, so I went to look for it.

Sadly, it had disappeared into a void. It took me several days to locate it hiding out in the teen area, which was the last place I expected to find it since it was listed as adult fiction in our catalog. (Hey, these things happen. Librarians make mistakes too, you know.) I'm not sure if this was published for teens or adults. I'm an adult and I quite liked it, but it certainly feels teen in nature. All the main characters are teens, including the ghost, and it's all about the confusion, joy and pain of first relationships. The characters also do teen-like things such as dropping out of high school, drinking, thinking about sex, visiting strangers' funerals, and trying to get rid of obsessively jealous icy cold phantoms that like to stick their hands inside living people's chests to do a little heart massage. Okay, that actually only happened to one character but it was deeply creepy.

To give a more lucid plot synopsis: Walking home one night, a teenage boy (our Narrator, whom I swear does not get a name in the entire book) encounters the ghost of Josh, a young man who was struck and killed by a car in 1947. Our Narrator develops an instant crush on the guy, despite Josh's being dead. Hey, cute is cute, you know? After seeing Josh, Our Narrator begins to see ghosts everywhere. He has an affinity for them, due to a failed suicide attempt. And when the ghosts make physical contact, he can experience their memories, which are often unpleasant. But it takes awhile for Our Narrator to learn the downsides of seeing ghosts. At first he's so smitten with Josh that it's thrilling to have the ghost follow him home. But soon Josh's visits turn creepy (see chest massage above) and the bloom is off the rose. Also, Our Narrator begins to develop feelings for a living, breathing boy, which makes Josh jealous and angry. As one might presume, jealous, angry ghosts are bad news. It becomes clear that Josh needs to be exorcised, but doing so puts Our Narrator at risk.

I got drawn into this book pretty quickly. I think it was the characters that really engaged me. I loved Our Narrator and his circle of friends. Although the story centers on Our Narrator, we also see glimpses of other young couples, such as Maggie and Liz who are having problems; Trace who begins a fledgling relationship with a guy named Taylor;and Kim, a girl whose brash attitude turns off everyone, leaving her mostly alone. I loved that one character is called Second Mike, named after his missing and presumed dead older brother. There was such inherent sadness and creepiness about being the replacement for the missing brother--who makes a creepy and likewise tragic appearance later in the book. I felt like I really knew these kids and cared about them. The cast of ghosties was pretty good too, even the ones we got to see only in the briefest glimpses. Perhaps they were so effective because they were brief. There were a few cliche moments--talking baby dolls, for example--but mostly the ghost scenes were chilling. I especially liked that Our Narrator begins to question how many people he sees on the street are actually living at all.

The cover shown here isn't at all like the cover of the book I read. I assume the book is being reprinted. I have to say I like "my" cover better, but the size of the book (slightly large) may be off-putting to some readers. Gentle readers, don't judge a book by the unusual size of its cover. Vintage: A Ghost Story is a satisfying ghost story, as well as a good read about friendships, relationships, and expectations.

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