Night Side of the River: Ghost Stories

Atlantic Monthly. Oct. 2023. 306p. ISBN 9780802161512. $27. F
Winterson’s (Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal??) short story collection contains existential questions artfully imbedded into the best ghost story tropes. They pose questions—is death an embodied experience, or are ghosts real, for example—that examine the relationship between death and the dead. These philosophical inquiries are braided into classic ghost story frames, such as shadowy apparitions, icy-cold rooms, foggy heaths, and bumps in the night, that also incorporate contemporary haunting elements (cell phones, apps, VR headsets). States of being refuse clear borders or definitive answers. Winterson effectively interrupts otherworldly wanderings with short segues of personal anecdotes relating her own conjectured ghostly encounters. Most impactful are the tales that haunt other stories within the collection; they offer perspectives of both the ghost and the ghosted, seen from both sides of the veil that barely divides them.
VERDICT These stories bring enough of a chill factor to raise the hairs on the back of the neck as the ghosts use contemporary methods to scare readers. The tales also open a creaking door to empathy for the dead, the living, and the lonely.
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