As I mentioned when I wrote about Paperbacks From Hell and The Nest, my latest obsession is paperback horror from the 70s, 80s and 90s. After reading the former book and getting the reprint of the latter from the fantastic Valancourt Books, I made my way over to ThriftBooks armed with the list of titles I wanted to check out from PFH and ordered about a half dozen novels. Honestly, I couldn’t remember what most of them were about or what about the initial writing made me want to check them out, but I figured I could trust myself. With a stack of books featuring titles like The Glow, Heads and Obelisk, I found myself initially drawn to T.M. Wright’s 1984 book A Manhattan Ghost Story. It was a great choice, I must say!
Out of curiosity, I went back to PFH to see what might have sparked my interest about this title. First mentioned in the chapter on Real Estate Horror, Manhattan popped up in the section about scary cities. “In A Manhattan Ghost Story (1984), T.M. Wright imagines a city choked with ghosts, some of whom work in bordellos,” Hendrix writes. In a later section about the author himself, Hendrix added, “His [works] weave a quiet, off-kilter spell that may not appeal to all readers but is certainly disquieting.” Looking back, I’m not surprised I wanted to read this book!
I don’t want to get into it too, too much because this book benefits from a sense of not quite knowing what’s going on, but the main thrust of the story revolves around a photographer in his early 30s named Abner moving from Bangor, Maine to New York City to work on a big coffee table book. His buddy Art’s letting him stay in his pretty swank pad, but Abner soon finds himself caught in a web of lies, death, murder, past indiscretions and — I don’t think it’s a spoiler because it’s in the title — ghosts.
The spirits of Wright’s book often find themselves stuck in loops, but the brilliant thing about setting this story in the Big Apple is that, so do the living! I worked in NYC for a few months several years ago and can confirm that you get into these set patterns that you may not even notice. I got off the train at Penn Station — sometimes with friends, other times solo — walked up the same steps, past the same cacophonous orchestra of homeless people asking for money and street preachers hollering about whatever. I basically walked the exact same route from there, stopped at a particularly excellent coffee shop occasionally and went up to work. While reading Ghost Story, I realized that my pattern — and the patterns of the millions of people also filling that city up — were not that uncommon from the specters in this tale, which Abner can see and interact with.
Wright takes the whole circularity idea further by repeating a few paragraphs throughout the book. I realized he did this as a way to get the reader a bit more into the mindset of the ghost, but also to emphasize some of the themes. This is my particular favorite:
Listen, at times it is imperative that we grab hold of things that are real, things that have mass and weight, things that can cut, things that are mechanical, soulless, gauche, and temporary.
And we need such things when we feel certain that we’re going to be caught up, suddenly — or are already caught up –in something exquisite, and eternal. Like death. Or love Or both.
And we need such things because they help confirm that we are, ourselves,m soulless, gauche, and temporary. Sure it’s a lie. I know it’s a lie, but it’s how must of us make it from one day to the next.
I really enjoyed reading A Manhattan Ghost Story, but like the quote from Hendrix says about, mileage may vary. This book raises far more questions than it answers, but if you like a book that creates a unique, foggy atmosphere and occasionally dips into full-on horrifying moments, then it will hopefully be up your alley. I actually liked this one so much that I ordered several other T.M. Wright books including the sequels to this one — The Waiting Room and A Spider On My Tongue — as well as Strange Seed (the first installment in its own series), Carlisle Street and The Playground (just look at that cover!). If you do want to check out A Manhattan Ghost story, you can grab a copy from ThriftBooks like I did or you can buy the digital version on Amazon. OR, you can buy all three as one big ebook on there as well for only $6!