Titan Books (October 11, 2022)
Reviewed by Carson Buckingham
Ghostwritten is a series of four novellas, all involving books… strange, ghastly, deadly books. It’s a terrific collection predicated on an ingenious idea and if you enjoy Stephen King’s earlier writing, you’ll find that Malfi’s style is reminiscent of the King of Maine in his far better days.
THE SKIN OF HER TEETH
A famous author’s masterpiece is being adapted into a screenplay, but things go horribly awry for the poor screenwriter the moment he gets to work on the story.
Finally, his agent goes in search of him because the screen adaptation is long overdue, and the movie deal is about to fall through. No one can reach him by phone or email, so she drives out to his secluded home, and there he is–a shadow of his former self, terrified, and apparently losing his mind.
“Apparently” is the operative word here.
The only thing I strongly disliked was Malfi’s self-referential section to Floating Staircase. This is one area in which you do not want to be like Stephen King, Mr. Malfi. When you start quoting yourself, it’s time for a humility check.
THE DARK BROTHERS’ LAST RIDE
Two small-time, loser thugs are tasked to deliver a package, which they are told is a book. They normally deliver much more questionable packages, but this unusual delivery comes with a set of strict rules and instructions that must be followed to the letter. There are, shall we say… consequences… if they ignore them.
They must not open the locked briefcase that holds the book or touch the book.
They must follow what seems to them a terribly circuitous route to meet the client, adding days on to what should have been a straight 12-hour drive. They must not deviate from this route.
They must ignore anyone who asks to see the book.
The dynamic between the two brothers is pretty typical for older/younger male siblings. One is responsible and one does what he wants…
… one more time.
THIS BOOK BELONGS TO OLO
Olo Tiptree is a peculiar, precocious nine-year-old boy. He wears slacks, dress shirts, and clip-on ties exclusively. He is never without his plastic clown mask, and he has dragged discarded mannequins into the yard and posed them, named them, and talks to them. He is homeschooled and has a genius-level intellect. He is weird…very weird.
He is also friendless, and this is what this story is about.
What do you do when you are desperately lonely, but don’t know how to make friends?
Maybe use a pop-up book?
This last story will strike a nostalgic chord with those who enjoyed the “Choose Your Own Adventure’ books that were popular from 1979 to 1999. Except in this one, the reader’s choices become real-life options. A solid, inspired idea.
Unfortunately, the author’s research wasn’t. For example, in referring to an area in NYC, he describes it as the ‘fetid, steaming intestines of the Bowery.’ The Bowery has been gentrified and has been for many years—it’s former reputation as Skid Row is a distant faded memory. A quick search on Google would have told him that.
Also, a character has hanged herself in the story and is not found for hours. Yet, when she is identified at the morgue, she is described as ‘peaceful’ with a rosy color in her face. I doubt it. I grew up in the funeral business and I have seen, firsthand, what hanging victims look like, and ‘peaceful’ is about the last word I’d use. Their tongues and eyes are protruding, and their faces are blue-black. It is the stuff of nightmares. Again, this information is not hard to find.
Another thing that bothered me about this story, aside from the shoddy research, was the fact that the landlady seemed to come and go into this woman’s apartment without explanation or permission, and it was not treated as anything unusual. It was the landlady who found her, several hours after she killed herself, and the first question I asked was, “What the hell was she doing in the apartment?” If the death was just a few hours old, there would not be any appreciable decomp odor—at least not that would be detectable outside the door. So what’s up with that?
Of the four, my favorite was THE DARK BROTHERS’ LAST RIDE. Malfi managed to create an eerie, almost queasy journey through territory that was weirdly off-center and dreamlike. Beautifully rendered.
3 ½ stars. You’ll enjoy it.