Book Review: Ghost Summer Stories
“No one warned her about summers in Gracetown…”
I started reading Ghost Summer Stories because I was looking for more horror by black authors, and because it was being read by a number of people whose opinions I trust. By the end of our read-along we all came to essentially the same conclusion: this collection of stories is excellent and now we need to read everything else author Tananarive Due has ever written!
SUMMARY: Whether weaving family life and history into dark fiction or writing speculative Afrofuturism, American Book Award winner and bestselling author Tananarive Due’s work is both riveting and enlightening. In her debut collection of short fiction, Due takes us to Gracetown, a small Florida town that has both literal and figurative ghost; into future scenarios that seem all too real; and provides empathetic portraits of those whose lives are touched by Otherness. Featuring an award-winning novella and fifteen stories—one of which has never been published before—Ghost Summer: Stories is sure to both haunt and delight.
The stories are grouped into four sections: Gracetown, The Knowing, Carriers, and Vanishings.
Gracetown contains three stories all set in the same town in Florida during the summer. While “The Lake” (told from the POV of a predator) and “Summer” (child snatchers and the dark side of parenting) are both disturbing in their own ways, the titular novella “Ghost Summer” is the clear standout, and probably the best story in the whole collection. It features the trope of kids being able to see ghosts that adults can’t, but then it adds a twist when the dad plays along and gets drawn into the otherworldly investigation. It’s a story that literally gets better and better with every page (quite the feat indeed).
The Knowing contains five stories that mostly seem to revolve around characters with special powers (either by being born with them or attaining them through devilish deals, witchcraft, etc). “Free Jim’s Mine” ends up being a creepy little creature feature, made even more so because I find subterranean caves and tight spaces terrifying. It’s also a gut punch reminder that everyone those we love can hurt us in their pursuit of selfish ends. “The Knowing” is an interesting tale of a woman who knows the exact date that everyone is going to die. “Aftermoon” has werewolves. “Trial Day” has voodoo magic. And I won’t spoil anything about “Like Daughter” but I will say I’m still recovering from the shocking twist ending.
Carriers contains five stories that all have to do with viruses, plagues, and the apocalypse. Right now it is June of 2020 and the world is suffering from a global pandemic. Safe to say a lot of the stories in this section had an extra layer of unsettling horror to them. “Patient Zero” and “Danger Word” (the latter of which was co-written with her husband Steven Barnes) both have young boys as their protagonists, and it’s heartbreaking to see world crumbling through their eyes (though each are under different circumstances). “Removal,” “Heard Immunity,” and “Carriers” all have the same protagonist and are basically chronological accounts of the before, during, and aftermath of the world-destroying virus (forming a short story trilogy of sorts). All three are good, but I think “Heard Immunity” is my favorite.
Finally, Vanishings contains just two short stories, both involving characters who are dying and/or coping with the loss of loved ones (death = vanishing). All of Due’s stories have a mournful note underlying them, but these are probably the two saddest ones to me. The author said she wrote them as a way to try and process how people in our lives can just disappear suddenly (through illness, old age, accidents, etc) and not come back. Sad, sad stuff.
I love the range of stories and ideas in this collection, and I think it is cool how they are grouped thematically. Apparently Tananarive Due can write well in pretty much any genre! I also really like how the author includes a short paragraph at the end of each story, explaining where her idea came from and what other anthology/publication it was first published in. They provide neat little insights into the germ of the stories and the mind of the author.
I read this collection at a much slower pace than I normally read. I wanted to luxuriate in the prose and contemplate the larger truths underpinning each tale. And I just didn’t want the book to end. Due’s ideas, plots, and characters are fantastic on their own, but what puts this collection above and beyond others like it is the writing style. Gorgeous descriptions, metaphors, and characterization. An easy intertwining of tense, heart-pounding adrenaline and quiet lamentation. I think her husband, who wrote the afterword, puts it best when he says her stories, beyond just the basics of storytelling, include the language of poetry. It’s what is happening in between the lines that really leaves an impact.
It’s not just that she’s writing plots, characters, and circumstances that we can relate to or see in our own lives, but that she’s trying to find the deeper meaning in them. And by offering us a wide range of perspectives, such as “the crying child, the departing lover, the discontented customer, the senile grandparent who used to be so alive and wise” (Due 331) we are able to understand life, love, and loss in a variety of ways. These facets, occasionally brazen but often subtle, make up the numerous facets of our world. The fact that Due can put all of that together so effortlessly and so achingly real makes it pure magic, and her the magician. Highly recommend!!!
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