Horror writer David Nickle is a master of the creepy — the reveal at the end of the horror story that lodges in your brain and revisits you in goosepimply moments of fear. I stole the idea of ambulatory thumbs in Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town from one of his short stories ("The Unshackling of Thumbs"), because once I read that story, the image just wouldn't get out of my head.
But with his new novel, The 'Geisters, Nickle manages to capture another of horror's delicious thrills: spookiness. From the first page, The 'Geisters exudes a hindbrain-teasing sense of lurking menace, the haunted-house creak of an impending apparition. It's a spectacular feeling, and Nickle tightrope-walks it for 300 too-short pages, building to a climax that's spooky, creepy and scary besides — and all the moreso because of that long journey on the verge of fear.
Geisters is the story of Ann LeSage, a girl who manifests a violent and elusive poltergeist she calls the Insect. We meet Ann as she is about to get married to a lawyer named Michael Voors, who bemusedly resolves the cognitive dissonance of salt-shakers that move on their own without resorting to supernatural explanations. Ann knows better. She knows that the Insect has escaped from the mental prison she built for it after it killed her parents and turned her brother into a quadriplegic. As she and Michael depart for a lavish Caribbean honeymoon — paid for by Michael's mentor, a rich winery owner — the Insect manifests more frequently and in ways that grow ever more violent, culminating with their return flight making a disastrous emergency landing that kills her husband. That death sets her on a journey across America, hunted by people who seem to know the true nature of the poltergeists — and who have a darkly erotic relationship with them.
The story is a white-knuckler from page one, and Nickle is a master of luring you into thinking that the supernatural can be rationalized and systemized, only to reveal, time and again, that the orderly patterns we try to make of the irrational are figments of our imagination. I was off-balance and more than a little scared throughout.
The book's also got its own power-ballad:
Kari Maaren wrote and performed this anthem for the book on her uke.