The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian
Published by Crown
From the publisher:
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.
I feel compelled to start by saying that I LOVE Chris Bohjalian and have pretty much loved everything I’ve read from him. So I was surprised and disappointed when I didn’t love The Night Strangers, didn’t even like it much, in fact. For many reasons, the book just didn’t work for me.
I didn’t feel drawn to any of the characters in the book. I felt for Chip, sure, what he experienced when his plane went down and all of those people were killed was absolutely devastating and I cannot imagine feeling responsible for such a tragedy. But I didn’t connect with him in any real way, and that made it difficult for me to truly care about his situation. With Emily, again I felt for her – having to move to a new town and start a new life and having to live with a husband who has PTSD, all while holding down a job and caring for two children is certainly something I cannot imagine having to deal with – but again, I felt no real connection to her so it was just surface-level caring on my part. And I felt the twins were kept at arms’ length from me, that I wasn’t able to truly get to know them.
Second, the ghost story part of the book. I like a good ghost story as much as the next person. To me, this wasn’t a “good” ghost story. It was simply a few ghosts, from the plane that crashed, scaring Chip. Or were they even ghosts? Was that his PTSD talking and they were all in his head? The reader never really knows, which can be cool, but in this case I found it relatively annoying. Especially when Chip started going off the deep end – I just didn’t get it.
And then we have the herbalist women. My absolute least favorite thing about the entire book. They felt SO out of place among the rest of the novel. I just could not with these women. And the ending? Not a fan, not even a little bit.
Basically … I found the entire book to be uneven and not very cohesive. It’s very likely a case of this particular book and this particular reader not being a good match, because truly I have loved most everything Bohalian has done and I will continue reading his novels. But this one will never be one I can recommend.