Kassa's Reviews > Vintage: A Ghost Story

Vintage by Steve Berman
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's review
Feb 11, 2010

really liked it

This book is a few years old and has been re-released by Lethe Press, receiving glowing accolades from almost every corner. As a fan of Berman’s writing, I expected Vintage to delight and enthrall while offering more questions and possibilities as his stories inevitably do. Thankfully Vintage offered all I was expecting and more, bringing a new challenge in writing a review for a story that has been so thoroughly covered and lauded. So if anything I have to offer has already been said, hopefully the very least you’ll get out of this is to read the book if you haven’t and read it again if you have.

The story begins with the first person narrator, an unnamed youth, who runs into a ghost on a deserted highway. He soon finds out the ghost is actually the small town’s local legend of a young jock that was killed in 1957. When the narrator is able to speak and interact with the ghost, this sets off a series of chain reactive events. As if dealing with an emotionally needy and disturbed ghost isn’t difficult enough, the narrator is also torn between his feelings for the dead ghost and a very real boy. Not to mention his group of dysfunctional friends who want him and his advice.

Vintage is a very classic ghost story, relying on common themes and urban legends to create the setting and plot. Berman’s real talent then comes into play with his subtle but brilliant characterization and humorous, engaging prose. Here an unnamed 17 year-old narrator creates a main protagonist that everyone can relate to, a nameless outsider who struggles against acceptance and wonders if he’ll always be alone. He experiences conflicts with himself and others over his sexuality, his ability, his desires, and his actions, which parallel the ghost’s in some ways and their early co-dependence on each other is easy to understand. Thankfully the narrator uses humor and insight to realize the absurdity of dating a ghost, yet the haunting emotions linger even in the face of reality. It’s only the presence of another boy that allows the narrator to move beyond his fear and illusions into something real. He also has a small group of friends who in many ways typify modern goth teenagers with their obsession with death, reckless drugs, and embracing their different status. However these teenagers could easily be any group of disaffected youth, shunned and out of place as they struggle to find themselves and their future. The subtly of detail shines where the book doesn’t try to overwhelm with description, but instead lets the idea and feeling of the characters convey to the reader. If just a few details were changed these characters easily could be any other group of teenagers.

The secondary characters are well drawn with an implied background rather than explicitly stated. The book allows readers to infer information without needing to add lengthy narratives to explain each person’s past. This is done with clever prose and dialogue, incorporating pop culture without relying on the knowledge too heavily. Trace, the female best friend that transcends the fag hag stereotype is shown to have a difficult childhood with just a few sentences. The dialogue and commentary give rise to a young woman who shares a close friendship with the narrator without relying on him. If anything, she is the stronger of the two characters as she struggles to take the mothering role in her family. Her brother, Second Mike, is the youngest character at fifteen and shows both immaturity and intelligence. He’s at that coming of age stage and the book shows his past in such spine tingling moments as the narrator’s comment “how many times had I mistaken what-I-thought-was Second Mike in the house for his dead brother? Once or twice? Countless times?”

That comment also brings into focus the narrator’s ability to see ghosts. Although he sees the urban legend ghost on the highway early in the book, slowly the narrator comes to realize he can see many, many other ghosts. He never recognized what he was seeing as supernatural and what seems at first a cool connection to a hot dead guy, soon becomes scary and potentially harmful. The seamless transition brings about a creepy and downright scary feeling to the book without needing to terrify or use gore and horror. The emotional needs of the living and the dead offer poignant scenes set in graveyards and cobweb filled attics. The desire for love and companionship fills the pages as each character makes and breaks connections while searching for an elusive happiness.

The tightly worded story wastes very little and almost everything has a purpose and connection. The few scenes between the narrator, Liz, and Maggie are perhaps the weakest and least driven. These show another side to all the characters, but if anything these could have been omitted as the real intensity and driving force occurs elsewhere. When the story focuses on the narrator, Josh, Mike, and Trace, the writing is at its most engaging and absorbing. The clever descriptions, witty dialogue, and relatable sense of character and plot all combine to deliver a classic story that can be enjoyed and loved at all ages. From the small details of the vintage shop and love of classic clothing to nuanced characters and subtle depths of emotion, the story delivers a beautiful and poignant tale in a light, easy manner that will resonate with readers. I highly suggest you check this out.
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04/11 marked as: read

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