Friday, 7 September 2012

‘Trucker Ghost Stories’ – Edited by Annie Wilder (Tor)

Do you believe in ghosts and things like that? I’m pretty sure that everyone reading this blog does; if we didn’t why would we read the books that we do? We all want to believe that this kind of thing really does happen, outside of books, so when I saw ‘Trucker Ghost Stories’ I jumped on it like a shot.
Having read it though… I think I might stick with the fiction in future as real life isn’t anywhere near as scary (not if this book is anything to go by). I'd normally post some kind of blurb here but the premise of the collection is really simple, 'true tales of ghostly encounters on the highways and byways of America'.

‘Trucker Ghost Stories’ is only a very slight two hundred and forty six pages long but I have to say that my journey through it felt like I was reading a book three times the length. More of a chore than a pleasure then, not a great state of affairs…

The biggest issue, I thought, was in the subject matter itself and how it (probably quite unwittingly) forms a pattern that gives the book a repetitive feel that verges on the wrong side of hypnotic. Think about it, trucker ghost stories… Collect them all together and what you have here are dozens of stories that all begin with a variation of ‘I was driving one night’ and end on a variation of ‘I was really scared by the ghostly woman/car that drives itself, I never drove down that road again’. It’s really hard not to feel like you’re reading the same story over and over again.

I also found myself wondering whether Wilder had enough material, to fill the book, when she opened things up to include UFO and alien sightings along with the ghostly trucker stuff. Is the book aimed at more than one audience or are there just not that many ghosts haunting the highways and byways of America? I don’t know.
What I do know though is that stories like ‘Alien Encounter at Deacon’s Corner Truck Stop’ come across as being more about someone’s chance to expound upon their theories (to a captive audience) rather than tell a genuinely unsettling tale. If you explain things in too much detail, where’s the mystery and (ultimately) the chill in the tale? Moments like these cast an awfully big shadow over the rest of the book.

I’ve also got to wonder how Wilder determined the truth of these tales before they went in the collection. After all, you only have someone else’s word for it… In this instant, I’m thinking of ‘Hat Man on the Montreal Avenue Bridge’ in particular. Here’s a tale that’s a little too descriptive for my liking (‘fallen leaves scattered like insects…’ anyone?); this really takes away from the ‘matter of fact’ air that generally comes with true stories. If this were the only problem though I wouldn’t have minded too much. No, the ‘ghost’ of the piece is almost a spitting image of the ‘Walking Dude’ from Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’. Coincidence or something… less original? I will let you decide (I was just waiting for the narrator to come down with the flu)…

Another one of the problems I found with the book can be best summed up by the words of one of the contributors,

‘This may not sound very scary, and that may be due to my lack of writing skills’ (‘Skinwalker in Arizona’, Lee Honawu)

You have people in this collection that have obviously been scared by something but lack the language to get this across on the page. A little too ‘matter of fact’ maybe… You can read about things that must have been really scary but if the writer cannot make you feel that then it’s a bit of a damp squib really… Moments like this also cast a shadow on the book as a whole; a book that’s meant to be scaring its readers.

I must say that there are some really unsettling tales that do leave an impression on the reader. I’m thinking of ‘The Bloody Bride Bridge’ in particular, a real lesson in timing the chills to perfection. I don’t often jump at a book but I did here! Unfortunately this doesn’t really balance out the underlying issues of ‘Trucker Ghost Stories’, a book that really isn’t it for the long haul in terms of unnerving its readers…

Six out of Ten

1 comment:

Xenophon said...

Couldn't help chuckling when I saw this cover. For all I could think of was the "Large Marge" ghost trucker segment of Peewee's Big Adventure.