cover image Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places

Colin Dickey. Viking, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-1-101-98019-4

In the introduction to this illuminating study of so-called true hauntings and the American public’s enduring fascination with them, Dickey (Cranioklepty) posits that “ghost stories reveal the contours of our anxieties, the nature of our collective fears and desires, the things we can’t talk about in any other way.” Grouping haunts into four categories—houses, hangouts, institutions, and entire towns—he shows how the persistence of these ghost stories, especially when their details change with the times, say more about the living than the dead. Noting how popular accounts of the ghost of Myrtles Plantation has shifted over the years from that of an abused slave to revenants from a Native American burial ground beneath the plantation, Dickey notes that “ghost stories like this are a way for us to revel in the open wounds of the past.” Describing the ghost stories that cropped up in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation, he writes that ghost stories “are how cities make sense of themselves: how they narrate the tragedies of their past, weave cautionary tales for the future.” In contrast to many compendia of “true” ghost stories, Dickey embeds all of the fanciful tales he recounts in a context that speaks “to some larger facet of American consciousness.” His book is a fascinating, measured assessment of phenomena more often exploited for sensationalism. [em]Agent: Anna Sproul-Latimer, Ross Yoon Agency. (Oct.) [/em]