While Chris Bohjalian isn’t quite in my upper pantheon of favorite authors, he’s rapidly working his way up the list. And his latest novel “The Night Strangers” just may be the book that puts him over the top.
It’s interesting to read this novel while attempting to watch the new FX series “American Horror Story.” On the surface, the two would appear to share the common theme of a haunted house story. And while I’ve only seen one episode of “Horror Story” so far, I’d have to say that Bohjalian’s novel is the far more sinister, gothic type of experience I was hoping for based on the ads for “Horror Story.”
Chip Linton is a commercial airline pilot whose career is on track and whose family life is going well. He and his wife Emily are happily married with fraternal twin daughters. During a routine take-off, Chip’s plane encounters a gaggle of geese, taking out an engine in the plane and forcing an attempted water landing. A freak wave ensures the water landing isn’t quite as successful as the one in New York a few years ago. Chip is one of the few survivors and is haunted by these moments, even as he loses his job with the airline.
Chip, his wife Emily and the two daughters buy a house in New Hampshire, hoping the change of scenery will help Chip’s PTSD and give the family a new start. At first, things go well, but there is something more going on not only with the house but the community the Lintons have moved into.
While it would be easy to sum up “The Night Strangers” as a ghost story, doing so would be to overlook a lot of what sets this novel apart from other haunting stories. Bohjalian’s ably swifts between third-person narrative for all the characters but Chip and second-person narrative to allow us inside Chip’s addled mind. It helped keep me guessing as to what exactly was going on within the story for a long period of time without feeling like it was dragging out certain revelations. It also helps us to understand Chip’s behavior not only from within but also to see how it impacts those around him.
The story is haunting, the prose is hypnotic at times. “The Night Strangers” pulled me and wouldn’t let go at times. It’s one of those books that you need to set aside a good chunk of time to get lost in. If you do, you won’t regret it.