M A's Reviews > The Night Strangers

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian
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Oct 30, 2011

did not like it
bookshelves: haunted-house, horror, witchcraft
Read from October 09 to 17, 2011

DISCLAIMERS: I paid full price for this novel (and heartily regret it.) I read this entire novel (and heartily regret that, too.) This is my first (and probably my last) Bohjalian read. In terms of technical quality and professionalism, the book boasts interesting construction, but I still dislike it.

In a nutshell, the beginning took forever for this story to get anywhere, the middle featured some genuine chills and disturbing moments and the conclusion punched me hard in the belly and roused rare fury at the funds and hours I invested in the read. There are very few books I've ever found myself screaming, "Give me my time and my money back!" but "Night Strangers" makes that cut with aplomb.

In "Night Strangers," Bohjalian attempts to combine powerful family drama with psychological horror and supernatural horror a la Stephen King's "The Shining." Despite the scares (some genuine, others cliche to the point they annoy more than frighten,) Bohjalian's storytelling fails due to his inability to construct powerful (or even tepid) emotional dynamics within the Linton family. The family is so emotionally damaged and fractured from Day One and the characters themselves are too wooden and one-dimensional for attentive readers to feel invested in them. I found Reseda, a secondary character, somewhat compelling, but that's about it in a novel with a fairly large cast.

So, without good, strong characters or interesting relationships to engage me, I move on to the plot. This book features some of the most self-indulgent overwriting I've ever read. Bohjalian devotes a huge chunk of word count to describing the Lintons' new house, its oddities, and hints of its sinister history. I love lots of word-painting and strong establishment of setting, but Bohjalian failed to connect these elements with plot and/or characterization in any meaningful way beyond that I felt the house's eccentric construction and decor were as dysfunctional, disturbed, and ineffective as the Lintons themselves. This may have been B's point, but it was too overdone and did little to move the plot forward.

More "description overkill" is devoted to recounting the accident that ended Chip Linton's career as a commercial pilot, a tragedy involving 39 deaths and reducing Chip to an emotionally unstable, guilt-ridden recluse. I am not exagerrating when I say I got sick and tired of reading and re-reading these descriptions and they went on throughout the entire novel. Every few scenes Chip experienced a new memory, a daydream, or a nightmare regarding what he witnessed and experienced. It became distracting and intrusive and -- again -- served no purpose in expanding characterization or plot. Obviously Chip's sense of identity and self-worth were hampered by his accident, but the constant reminders reached a maudlin level. I felt like Bohjalian was more interested in describing every technical detail of how a plane crashes and what the passengers witness and experience than he was in telling me a good story. Am I impressed with his research and technical jargon? Sure. Did it make for a good story? Not so much.

Bohjalian's writing suffers awful transition. In one chapter, Chip wouldn't dream of murdering his daughters. A scene or two later, he's stalking them with a knife without any clear transition explaining the change. It may have been the author's intent to provide an inconsistent, schizophrenic feel to his work, but I found it confusing and distracting. Just one more annoying thing that made no sense.



NOTE: THE REMAINDER OF THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. PLEASE DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU WISH TO AVOID SPOILERS.

(view spoiler)

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Reading Progress

10/09
7.0% "The 16-page prologue struck me as way too lengthy and monotonous in tone. It's an enormous info-dump/character intro/exposition/establishment of setting. All of it tell-y and none of it broken by dialogue. The author's voice is a tad formal, almost old-fashioned and more suited to historical fiction than contemporary psy-thriller. Emotion is understated, very masculine."
10/10
14.0% "Chapter 1: I'm getting a little impatient. This author doesn't like dialogue and really likes tell-y prose."
10/11
16.0% "The writer's voice has a wonderful, consistent cadence, but I am still waiting for things to happen. I also hate the tense switches intended, I guess, to define Chip's emotional fragility. This book is full of page-long paragraphs and half-page sentences. Henry James would be impressed."
10/13
25.0% "Hot dog! The plot might be moving forward a bit at last! I finally read a scene that made me feel angry enough (in a good-the-book-is-working way) to slap one of the characters."
10/17
100.0% "I would have rated this novel 4 stars prior to reading the final chapter and the epilogue. Will review in detail soon."
06/05 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-20 of 20) (20 new)

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Lisa Nocita I couldn't agree more! Your review puts my feelings and thoughts into words precisely! Much better than my own attempt!


Jo Anne B Excellent review! I agree on everything you wrote about this book. Your review echoed my thoughts and feelings on this book perfectly!


Carrie Your review is spot on, but please consider given the author another chance. I have read "Skeletons at the Feast," "Midwives," and "Secrets of Eden" and enjoyed them very much in that order.


message 4: by Jen (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jen I agree with your review, but I also agree with Carrie. Try "Midwives" or "Trans-sister Radio".


message 5: by Susan (new)

Susan Lou, I completely agree--I was totally shocked and angered at the epilogue and how Bohjalian seemed to lead us down the garden path--there were so many red herrings that ended up going nowhere and the ending was so disappointing. But I loved Midwives--please do read it.


message 6: by Susan (new)

Susan Sorry, M, not Lou!


message 7: by Kasia (new)

Kasia Oo thanks for the warning, I just finished a horrid clunker myself, couldn't handle another one.


message 8: by Sophie (new)

Sophie I am SOOOO glad I read this review, including the spoilers. Had I read this book, I would have been FUMING about not being forewarned about such a despicable "moral ambiguity.". You saved me money, but more importantly, time to read a good book and not a clunker.


message 9: by Fredsky (new)

Fredsky I agree with your review too. However, I was fascinated with the details of the plane crash. So much better than having to go through it myself!


Elaine I had the same experience with this book. I couldn't believe that I stuck with it and read the entire novel, only to have to deal with that completely depressing ending. I agree that the details of the plane crash were interesting. I lived by Lake Champlain as a child and my father is an AF pilot, but that was also sort of horrible because I experienced anxiety about flying for the first time ever. I just happened to read the novel on vacation and had to fly right after finishing the book. I felt so depressed and dejected after reading the ending. It's also a really horrible representation of herbalists and WICCA people. They already have a bad rap; they don't need anyone to think that they're child-murderers.


message 11: by Tami (new) - rated it 1 star

Tami Please do consider reading other Bohjalian works; this was not his finest work, nor is witchcraft/horror exactly his forte. I'd recommend Skeletons at the Feast, Midwives or The Double Bind. (My personal favorite is The Double Bind.)


Carol Hunter Skeletons at the Feast is one of my favorite books & I read a lot. This books is not indicative of his usual work.


message 13: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy Waterwitches is fabulous and Midwives was also brilliant. This was not the usual Bohjalian book and not my favorite, having read all others.


message 14: by Jan (new)

Jan Hmmm, after reading this and several other reviews I think I take this off my list. I love ghost stories but this sounds like a klunker. Thanks for the review.


message 15: by Lonah (new) - rated it 1 star

Lonah Thank you for explaining about the tone/voice the author used describing the moral ambiguity of the witches. I knew I wasn't imagining it. It really bothered the ish outta me.


message 16: by Lonah (new) - rated it 1 star

Lonah Thank you for explaining about the tone/voice the author used describing the moral ambiguity of the witches. I knew I wasn't imagining it. It really bothered the ish outta me.


Gretchen Fisher Perfectly written review!


Elaine I did love The Double Bind too.


message 19: by Suze (new)

Suze Based on the reviews, I'll skip The Night Strangers, but as others have said, Bojahlian's other works are superb. Skeletons at the Feast is one of my five favorite books of all time, so don't give up on him altogether.


Ellen I agree with some of your review, however you should not give up on this author as he has written some very good books...The Sandcastle Girls and The Skeletons at the Feast are two of his vey best books, I would rate them both five stars.


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