[Book Review]: Clay McLeod Chapman’s Ghost Eaters
Wanna get haunted?
Nobody does gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, stomach-turning storytelling quite like Clay McLeod Chapman. A heartwarmingly affable man with a mind of untold depths is perhaps the best balance to strike in the creative world, and fortunately Chapman is both in spades. Following him on social media is a constant adventure laden with breadcrumbs into his world and seemingly ceaseless work, and for that reason Ghost Eaters is one of my personal most anticipated releases and he one of my most avidly read authors.
Every author has their signature tools of the trade, something that sets them apart from anyone else in readers’ minds. Clay McLeod Chapman’s toolbox seems full to bursting with feverish delight in the ways to interpret the concept and nature of storytelling. Where The Remaking and Whisper Down The Lane built themselves from the blocks of shifting media consumption and word of mouth rumor mills, Ghost Eaters infects its story and its people with something far more sinister. Beyond word of mouth, Ghost Eaters reframes the very notion of spirits, houses, and haunting into a new land teeming with equal parts of every potentially toxic emotion humanity can muster.
After she busts him out of rehab, Erin watches her closest friend and-sometimes lover Silas rapidly descend into what appears to be a drug-fueled madness. When the intervention she and the friend group stage for him explodes beyond control, Erin kicks him out of her apartment and tries desperately to kick the habit of being his savior whenever he calls. When he’s found dead under an overpass, she must reckon with the wreckage of the intensity of her connection to him and her guilt. Tobias, one of the friend group, proposes a seance in an abandoned house so they might connect to Silas one more time…and reveals in the process that he and Silas have discovered a drug that is both potentially revolutionary and highly risky. Hungry for a way to continue her relationship with Silas, Erin soon spirals into a world where she can hardly believe her eyes…or trust her body. The only way to survive is to escape and break long held addictions of all kinds, no matter the cost.
It’s easy, under the right conditions, to be intoxicated with someone. Even addicted to them. Driven to sacrifice everything about yourself just for the knowledge that they might be happy and safe. It’s also one of humanity’s most dangerous and ultimately unrewarding tendencies. To fall into it is to become a shell of your former self, always clawing back and forth between reclaiming your identity and giving over to the life your counterpart wants. Chapman’s ability to delve into such a tenderly toxic landscape and pull from it a narrative as devastating as Ghost Eaters is a testament to his strengths in exploring and harnessing the rawer sides of human nature. It is a similar testament that no single character is ever fully unlikable — even at their worst and most manipulative moments, Erin’s ability to see the best in her friends allows us a window into the complexities of their struggles. Ghost Eaters is a novel of addiction and haunting where the houses, streets, and people are equally marred with the ghosts of their past even as they clamber toward a livelier future.
Even Silas, with the allure and charisma of a cult leader and arguably the most toxic member of the group, is never fully divorced from Erin’s devotion to him even in our eyes. By turns achingly sad and subtly menacing, the tendrils of his need envelope her until she can no longer see the world for what it is, only what he wants it to be and what it would be without his presence — no matter how she can get it. Erin’s journey toward life and a future is checkered with tragedy — both hers and the tragedies of the revenants she sees after taking Ghost, the drug that Silas and Tobias argue can connect you to lost loved ones and render mourning obsolete — that crashes into her in unrelenting waves.
Readers of Chapman’s prior works may notice small nods to Whisper Down the Lane, as if the research done for that novel still whispered through the author’s fingertips, in the agency Erin stakes her future on working for, and the lost son of one of Ghost’s later addicts. These echoes, whether intentional or not, adds a layer of sadness that feels right at home among the cast of other spirits lingering in the shells of Tobias’s dealing headquarters and begging for new vessels. While Ghost Eaters also extends its reach into the current and strangely persistent trend of eco-horror with a twist a la Mexican Gothic — I’ve read three separate authors over the past two weeks with their hands in sinister phyla — , it also manages to stand on its own wholly original ground that will have readers coming away reexamining their ideas of “haunted houses”, ghosts, and moving on without forgetting the past.
I would be remiss to leave this review without acknowledging Chapman’s devastatingly sharp way with words. Reading his work is always a test of stomachs and hearts in equal turn, and Ghost Eaters is no different. I found myself recoiling from turns of phrase through tears brought on from a previous paragraph’s revelations on more than one occasion. Clay McLeod Chapman is a writer’s writer and a reader’s favorite: one so skilled with word-building you can’t wait to see what previously unheard-of image he’ll conjure in your head next.
Ghost Eaters comes to shelves near you just in time for the chill of autumn to whisper through your house, September 20, 2022 from Quirk Books. I would like to thank the author, publisher, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.