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Book: “Ghost Eaters” by Clay McLeod Chapman
Publishing Info: Quirk Books, September 2022
Where Did I Get This Book: I received a print ARC from the publisher at ALAAC22.
Book Description: From the acclaimed author of The Remaking and Whisper Down the Lane, this terrifying supernatural page-turner will make you think twice about opening doors to the unknown.
Erin hasn’t been able to set a single boundary with her charismatic but reckless college ex-boyfriend, Silas. When he asks her to bail him out of rehab—again—she knows she needs to cut him off. But days after he gets out, Silas turns up dead of an overdose in their hometown of Richmond, Virginia, and Erin’s world falls apart.
Then a friend tells her about Ghost, a new drug that allows users to see the dead. Wanna get haunted? he asks. Grieving and desperate for closure with Silas, Erin agrees to a pill-popping “séance.” But the drug has unfathomable side effects—and once you take it, you can never go back.
Review: Thank you to Quirk Books for giving me an ARC of this book at ALAAC22 (and for Clay McLeod Chapman for signing it!)!
I had a few books that were must grabs at ALAAC22, and “Ghost Eaters” by Clay McLeod Chapman was on that list. I had read his book “Whisper Down the Lane”, and while I enjoyed it, it set off a bunch of my rage triggers regarding Satanic Panic, so I was more angry than scared as I read it. But when I read the description of this book there were no rage triggers to be found, which meant that I anticipated a more chill experience as I read it. Which, uh, wasn’t super correct. Was I rage filled as I read this book? No. Was it super terrifying and therefore it wasn’t exactly ‘chill’? Hell yes.
So the hype about this book being super scary? Accurate! I started reading this book in the evening, and once it became clear just how creepy it was going to be I made the decision to set it down and proceed in the morning. Which ended up being a good decision, because holy CATS, the ghosts in this book are SO disturbing and scary. You kind of get the gamut of things. You get shadows in corners. You get slow moving creepers closing in on Erin, our protagonist, and only she can see them as she takes a drug called “Ghost”, which allows her to do so. You get descriptions of rotting corpses, of spewed up ectoplasm, of ghost babies crawling around like feral animals, you get it all, and it really, REALLY messes with you. Chapman doesn’t hold back in the nightmare fuel department, as we travel through Richmond, Virginia with Erin as she starts seeing more and more ghosts after ingesting a drug that has this explicit purpose. The problem is, she just wanted to see ONE ghost in particular, that of Silas, her ex boyfriend who had a huge emotional hold on her and their friend group. So as more and more ghosts close in and she takes more and more Ghost in hopes of it finally being Silas, the tension builds and builds until it snaps, and boy oh BOY does it snap.
But Chapman doesn’t stop at making this a mere super scary ghost story. He also explores some very real world themes and horrors, namely that of addiction and the whitewashing of history. Addiction is probably the more obvious of the two, and while I think there could have been potential for it to come off as hamfisted or after school special-esque, Chapman always makes it feel earnest and super, super disturbing. Erin’s sadness and grief and loss and guilt drives her to try Ghost in hopes of finding closure with Silas, and she almost immediately spirals as the drug not only catches hold instantaneously, it also makes her a beacon for lost spirits that are drawn to her. But we also get a great foundation for why Erin is feeling this way over a man who was, by all accounts as seen in this story, kind of a selfish asshole, and the empathy he draws for her in her actions and also, somewhat, for him, makes it all the sadder and therefore all the scarier. And while she is terrified of the spirits, and the drug itself causes moments that cost her almost everything, she keeps coming back because of her need to see Silas one more time. It is the perfect metaphor for addiction, and while the ghosts are truly and incredibly scary, so is watching Erin completely wreck her life in the course of days, as well as seeing the other Ghost addicts as they spiral all in hopes of seeing a lost loved one again (a woman whose child died of SIDS was especially heartbreaking). Along with that, Chapman raises some GREAT points about ghost stories and folklore and how they have, in many ways, been whitewashed and in some ways romanticized. “Ghost Eaters” takes place in Richmond, a city that has been around a LONG time and has had a lot of blood spilled, a large part due to atrocities committed against Indigenous people and Black people. So many of the ghosts that Erin sees aren’t the wandering war widow or the little white girl from Antebellum times, but those of POC who died in horrific ways because of racism, Colonialism, and genocidal violence. As I was reading this book I kept thinking of “Ghostland” by Colin Dickey, which has this as a running theme, and LO AND BEHOLD this book was mentioned in the acknowledgements. What an awesome topic to tackle, and Champman does it with ease.
“Ghost Eaters” is a must read this Halloween season. Go get it, tear through it, and make sure you have the lights on.
Rating 9: Raw, profoundly disturbing, and genuinely scary, “Ghost Eaters” is a story that not only has some supremely fucked up ghosts, but also takes on themes like addiction, and which people are represented in traditional ghost stories.
“Ghost Eaters” is included on the Goodreads list “Horror to Look Forward To in 2022”.