Book Review: Bohjalian’s ‘The Night Strangers’

The Night Strangers
By Chris Bohjalian
New York: Crown Publishing Group (Oct. 4, 2011)
400 pp., $25.00

Chris Bohjalian's The Night Strangers will be released Oct. 4.

The right dose of trauma can change a man. But what if his vulnerable psyche is haunted by terrifying visions of the mutilated and the impaled, and his life is suddenly flooded by a batch of greenhouse-tending kooky herbalists? In The Night Strangers, New York Times bestselling author Chris Bohjalian uses a clean-edged pen to dice, toss, and serve a gasp-inducing plot that is ghost story-meets-psychological thriller.

Chip Linton wasn’t able to successfully land his commercial jet in a lake, like the legendary Sully Sullenberger had before him. Having choked on a flock of geese, Linton’s plane lost both engines and glided—nose up—into Vermont’s Lake Champlain. A pilot with over a decade of experience, Linton knew his jet could make a successful water landing, and his passengers could walk away unscathed. But with a last-minute twist of events, a mere wave from a nearby boat caused the jet to flip and cartwheel across the lake, taking the passengers on a freakish ride in a jet-turned grinder from hell. Four-fifths of the passengers perished. Bohjalian describes this nightmarish incident with such poignancy that you may feel the urge to cancel upcoming flight reservations.

Thirty-nine dead bodies—not souls—weighed heavy on Linton’s conscience. It seemed there wasn’t a single person who had not learned about Chip Linton—the man who was not Sully Sullenberger. A move from their home state of Pennsylvania to Bethel, a remote town in New Hampshire, seemed like the best course in letting the family heal and just be—or so believed Chip’s wife, Emily. But their new, quirky residence offered the feel of a haunted house rather than a home.

Bohjalian takes time to build this eerie three-story Victorian with its peculiar details, enveloping much of the story line within its walls and wallpapers: “There was a randomness to the house that originally had seemed quaint, as if an eccentric old aunt rather than a trained architect had designed it, but now seemed useless and disturbing. Why was the third-floor attic inaccessible from the two third-floor bedrooms? What really was the purpose of those rickety stairs that ran from a kitchen nook to a shadowy corner of the second floor? And then there was the Dunmores’ absolutely horrific taste in wallpaper: Had they chosen it consciously to terrify their two sons? Good Lord, Emily feared she might have killed herself, too, if she’d had to grow up near the carnivorous sunflowers in one room or the viperlike mammals in another.”

The strangest of all, however, was the door in the dank, dark basement, seemingly leading to nowhere, secured shut with 39 carriage bolts, a number that screamed conspiracy over coincidence. And the greenhouses, which had sprouted wildly in nearly every yard in town—including their own—left the Lintons puzzled, and even suspicious.

The history of the house and its previous inhabitants contributes to the spook factor, especially after miscellaneous weapons are discovered tucked away in various corners and closets. Meanwhile, Hallie and Garnet, the Lintons’ twin daughters, have become the new attractions in the town’s herbalist community. Emily is left to shoulder the responsibilities of mother, breadwinner, and Chip’s support structure. Isolated in a New Hampshire town, without family or friends, the Lintons need all the help they can get—but will that be with no strings attached?

The Night Strangers is told through various points of view—including that of the Linton family cat—in third person narrations. The traumatized pilot’s account, however, is recounted through a second person narrative, which is especially powerful in leading the reader through the disturbing episodes, both the actual and the psychotic: “You feel a sharp spike in your lower back, as if you have leaned against a protruding nail, and reflexively you wince. Just in case, you sit forward and run your hand over the wood behind you. It’s rough against your fingertips, but there is nothing spiking out from the beams. This pain is—as you presumed when you felt it—merely one of those strange, mystery aches that have dogged you since August 11.”

The book has a spellbinding clutch. A mélange of horror, thrill, drama, sex, and gore—juxtaposed against the quiet and solitude of a small New England town—it will test your courage and resolve. And you’ll find yourself anxiously scanning your bedroom, fearing to find the ghost of a child lurking quietly in some corner.

The Night Strangers will invade your world.

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Nanore Barsoumian

Nanore Barsoumian was the editor of the Armenian Weekly from 2014 to 2016. She served as assistant editor of the Armenian Weekly from 2010 to 2014. Her writings focus on human rights, politics, poverty, and environmental and gender issues. She has reported from Armenia, Nagorno-Karabagh, Javakhk, and Turkey. She earned her B.A. degree in political science and English from the University of Massachusetts (Boston), where she is currently continuing her graduate studies. Email Nanore Barsoumian at writenanore@gmail.com, or follow her on Twitter (@NanoreB).

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