Review: The Night Stangers by Chris Bohjalian
From the bestselling author of The Double Bind, Skeletons at the Feast, and Secrets of Eden, comes a riveting and dramatic ghost story.
In a dusty corner of a basement in a rambling Victorian house in northern New Hampshire, a door has long been sealed shut with 39 six-inch-long carriage bolts.
The home’s new owners are Chip and Emily Linton and their twin ten-year-old daughters. Together they hope to rebuild their lives there after Chip, an airline pilot, has to ditch his 70-seat regional jet in Lake Champlain after double engine failure. Unlike the Miracle on the Hudson, however, most of the passengers aboard Flight 1611 die on impact or drown. The body count? Thirty-nine – a coincidence not lost on Chip when he discovers the number of bolts in that basement door. Meanwhile, Emily finds herself wondering about the women in this sparsely populated White Mountain village – self-proclaimed herbalists – and their interest in her fifth-grade daughters. Are the women mad? Or is it her husband, in the wake of the tragedy, whose grip on sanity has become desperately tenuous?
The result is a poignant and powerful ghost story with all the hallmarks readers have come to expect from bestselling novelist Chris Bohjalian: a palpable sense of place, an unerring sense of the demons that drive us, and characters we care about deeply.
The difference this time? Some of those characters are dead.
The Night Strangers is very much in the same tradition as such revered horror stories as Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen. Chip Linton is an airline pilot trying to rebuild his life after an emergency landing kills almost all his passengers and crew. His wife Emily decides a move to the bucolic town of Bethel in New England will be just the thing for rebuilding their little family and his battered psyche. Upon arrival The Linton’s are welcomed by the local community but most especially by a group of ardent gardeners who adopt them and the couple’s twins.
Nestling into their new home Emily is quickly able to find work with a local law firm while Chip takes on the duties of a stay at home dad. But it’s not long before Chip begins to feel that the Lintons are not alone in their new home. Emily begins to notice that all their new gardening friends are easily identified by the fact that they all have first names that belong to herbs and their passion for gardening is bordering on obsession. Before long, Emily realizes that Bethel is divided into two groups – The Herbalists and the rest of the town. And the rest of the town is in fear for their lives.
As Chip embarks on remodeling their new home, he is struck by the discovery of a door in the basement with 39 bolts. There were exactly 39 deaths related to his plane crash. Day by day, Chip becomes increasingly disturbed and we follow him on a journey through madness. It isn’t long before The Lintons are fearing for their survival and looking for an escape.
Bojalian’s story is somewhat timeless – it could be set in almost any decade. Young disenfranchised family suffers though a tragedy and tries to leave the past behind by settling down in a new place only to find that things in their new community may not be as wholesome as they seem. The story has that wonderful quality where everyone is in on the joke except for The Lintons. And while the premise is intriguing the pace occasionally lags during the moments where Chip is lost in his reveries. Bojalian plants several sub stories throughout the novel that are never fully explored and serve to add little to the story in fact they are distractions. I won’t go into details because I don’t wish to spoil the story for anyone. But most of all – I suppose I wasn’t fully convinced of the ease with which the nefarious Herbalist plot unfolds and that feeling nagged me throughout my reading.
Nonetheless, The Night Strangers, is a page turner and could easily be adapted for the big screen. Before long everyone will be saying, “Eat them – they’re vegan.”