Melissa's Reviews > Giving Up the Ghost: A Story About Friendship, 80s Rock, a Lost Scrap of Paper, and What It Means to Be Haunted

Giving Up the Ghost by Eric Nuzum
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's review
Sep 10, 12

it was ok
Read in September, 2012

This isn't a bad book, but it's not exactly a good one either. Two parts memoir and one part journalistic investigation of famous haunting sites, it would have been better off had it just stuck with memoir. It's not that I'm not interested in a journalistic investigation of famously "haunted" places, it's just that I'm not sure this book was the right place for it. The memoir parts of the book are much stronger than the ghost-hunting parts.

That said, the book suffered from many instances of seeming unsure how to be. The lengthy subtitle, "A Story of Friendship, 80s Rock, a Lost Scrap of Paper, and What It Means to Be Haunted" is case in point. Sure, it's a story about friendship, and it's a story about what it means to be haunted. But it's not a story about 80s rock, and although there is a scrap of paper that gets lost and then found again, the book is no more about that than it's about working at T.J. Maxx, another thing that happens in the course of the story.

The 80s rock mention strikes me as pandering. The author and/or publisher is trying to appeal to fans of books like Rob Sheffield's Love Is a Mixtape, and with good reason. They're written by contemporaries with not-altogether dissimilar rock'n'roll experiences and both books are about young love tragically cut short. Yet, many people, myself included, would have been unlikely to pick up Sheffield's book without the draw of reading about underground music in the age of cassette tapes. And it would have been a mistake not to pick it up, because that book is a heartfelt story that has stuck with me for years. By including "80s Rock" in the title of this book, they're hoping people like me will read this one as well. I suppose it worked to an extent, but don't be fooled. Giving Up the Ghost is not nearly up to par with the likes of Love Is a Mix Tape. It's too disjointed and unsure what story it wants to tell.

I think Eric Nuzum just legitimately doesn't know what he wants to say about this topic of his friends who have died and the mental illness he suffered from as a teenager. For this reason, he focuses primarily on the "ghost" story of the book, his "Little Girl" visions. Annoyingly, he always capitalizes any pronouns referring to her from his own perspective: "I envisioned Her standing there behind me," "As long as She remained upstairs, I figured I could deal with it," and so forth. But as ghost stories go, this one is something of a dud. What was more interesting was how troubled of a youth he had in general. I think his visions of this ghost are an important and potentially interesting part of that story, but it is not the story itself. He could have made feeling haunted a vital theme of the story without making it the primary story. And that, I believe, would have made for a more affecting story. Ultimately, since he never can make any real sense of his "ghost" story, it falls flat. It's just a detail of a youth with many interesting details. But it's not really an effective way to discuss the losses he suffered, or the isolation he felt.
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