three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
56-Jan-Feb-2012
user_rating: 
0

A-The Night StrangersChris Bohjalian is the author of 14 books, including the best-selling novels Midwives (1997), Secrets of Eden (3.5 of 5 Stars May/June 2010), Skeletons at the Feast (4 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2008), The Double Bind (3 of 5 Stars May/June 2007), and Before You Know Kindness (4 of 5 Stars Selection Jan/Feb 2005). The Night Strangers, a ghost story, departs from Bohjalian's Jodi Picoult-like penchant for building his novels around hot-button issues.

The Story: A flock of geese forces an airplane into Lake Champlain, sending 39 passengers to their deaths. Overcome with survivor's guilt, the pilot, Chip Linton, decides to make a fresh start by moving himself, his wife, Emily, and their 10-year-old twin daughters from suburban Philadelphia to rural New Hampshire. But things do not get better; in fact, they get worse as Linton realizes there is something sinister about their new home. The basement contains a mysterious door sealed with 39 bolts, and the neighbors, herbalists with strange names, take a peculiar interest in his children. Then there's the ghostly appearance of Ashley, still dripping with lake water, still wearing her Dora the Explorer backpack, still impaled by a piece of fuselage--and the haunted Linton will do anything to "save" her.
Crown. 400 pages. $25. ISBN: 9780307394996

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"[A] literary ghost story all the more horrifying because it begins with a massive failure of technology, where so many place their faith these days. ... The passages told by Chip are most compelling as the crisp pilot's persona falls away to reveal a man struggling to survive the trauma of the accident." Amy Driscoll

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"The denouement is not only unexpected but is also perfect and true to the story. Bohjalian is a terrific writer and parsimonious in the way he issues information, slowly building an increasing sense of dread and excitement." Curtis Schleier

USA Today 3.5 of 5 Stars
"With echoes of Rosemary's Baby and The Shining, The Night Strangers draws from common horror tropes. But Bohjalian adds fresh chills with his seductive group of herbalists and the parallels to Sullenberger [and his ‘Miracle on the Hudson']." Patty Rhule

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It boasts all the trappings of a classic Gothic horror story, reminiscent in places of the spousal secrets in Nathaniel Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown, the thrills of Rosemary's Baby and the psychological frights of Daphne du Maurier. ... Bohjalian turns the screw right up to the unexpected ending and an epilogue that's truly shocking." Keith Donohue

Boston Globe 3 of 5 Stars
"His well-designed plots unfold in cool, perfectly paced prose, and he doesn't pander to his readers. But he doesn't challenge us much either, making this book as delicious as Halloween candy, but also as likely to be forgotten the next day." Julie Wittes Schlack

Critical Summary

There is always great anticipation when readers open a new Bohjalian novel, because they're never quite sure what they're going to get: a book about gay marriage, animals' rights, homeopathy, or the Holocaust? The Night Strangers, inspired by a door in the author's basement and Captain "Sully" Sullenberger's capable descent into the Hudson River, does not disappoint in its combination of modern-day and supernatural horror. "Of course," writes the Washington Post, "the logic of the Gothic horror story insists that we accept the house as a metaphor for the narrator's trapped mind." Most critics, however, recommended suspending disbelief in answering the question: "Why didn't the family simply pick up and leave the haunted house?" Fun and creepy, the novel comes with a caveat: "Read if you dare, but keep an extra light on, and make sure your seat is in the full upright and locked position" (USA Today).