Review: Ghost Eaters by Clay McLeod Chapman

cover of Ghost EatersGhost Eaters by Clay McLeod Chapman
Quirk Books (September 2022) 
304 pages; $19.79 hardcover; $16.79 paperback; $12.99 ebook
Reviewed by Haley Newlin

Ever hear the tale of Erin Hill? She ground her lover into a pill.

Richmond, Virginia, grows each year. Shedding its skin, turning plantations and civil war confederacy points into trendy restaurants and shops. But the dead are always in the room.

When Erin’s lifelong friend and on-and-off boyfriend, Silas, overdoses, life as she knows it caves in all around her. She should’ve helped him more, been more patient with his relapses, his erratic behavior.

Sitting on her bed in her job interview dress turned funeral dress, Erin knows her friends are with Silas. They’re watching his body sink lower and lower into the ground, their friend Amara reading a bad poem in his honor. Erin clings to Silas and his ironic lighter that reads “Rehab is for quitters.” She owes him a goodbye, but she can’t move. Stepping outside means entering a space without Silas.

Want to get haunted?

Soon, relief comes knocking at Erin’s door. Still dressed in his funeral clothes, Tobias presents the answer to her need to feel Silas, to exist only in spaces where he still does. Cupped in the palm of his hand. Ghost.

“Ghost acts as an incantation. Possession in a pill. A seance inside your mind,” Tobias says.

A chance to see Silas? To be haunted by him? What if dead doesn’t mean gone?

In the drug GHOST, Chapman creates one of the most heartbreaking and, dare I say, haunting metaphors for addiction. It grows like a fungus, a black mold spoiling across the walls. Silas is reaching for her.

Want to get haunted?

Light passes through Erin, Silas enters her body, and the warmth is sweet, euphoric, unlike anything else. And Erin wants more.

Soon Ghost expands, a magnetic force for those who have lost someone, becoming an addictive religion bent on spreading. Tobias takes up abandoned homes in a new housing development district and becomes the Ghost guru.

While not the most likable over time, the characters of Ghost Eaters are complex and developed with extraordinary empathy, reminiscent of those conjured by James Wan and Mike and Jamie Flanagan. Each character — Erin, Tobias, Amara, Silas, and all those looking for a reconnection with loved ones — symbolizes what addiction breaks, takes, and even kills. And I rooted, cried, and laughed with each haunted soul.

Trippy doesn’t begin to cover Ghost Eaters. It’s a throbbing, aching reminder of how syncopated love and ghosts are but not to be confused with love and possession. Love should never mean ownership.

Ghost Eaters curlicues through the impending fungal blackness of grief and addiction and depicts how vestiges of loss conjure emissaries of death.

Our hearts are haunted houses.

The best book from Chapman yet and easily one of my favorite reads of 2022. Horror fans, this one checks the boxes and crafts something wicked, full of heart, and lasting, or more appropriately, haunting.

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