Book Review: Giving Up the Ghost by Eric Nuzum

From the back of Giving Up the Ghost: A Story About Friendship, 80s Rock, a Lost Scrap of Paper, and What It Means to Be Haunted, by Eric Nuzum:

“Eric Nuzum is afraid of the supernatural, and for good reason: As a high school oddball in Canton, Ohio, during the early 1980s, he became convinced that he was being haunted by the ghost of a little girl in a blue dress who lived in his parents’ attic. It began as a weird premonition during his dreams, something that his quickly diminishing circle of friends chalked up as a way to get attention. It ended with Eric in a mental ward, having apparently destroyed his life before it truly began. The only thing that kept him from the brink: his friendship with a girl named Laura, a classmate who was equal parts devoted friend and enigmatic crush. With the kind of strange connection you can only forge when you’re young, Laura walked Eric back to “normal”—only to become a ghost herself in a tragic twist of fate.

Years later, a fully functioning member of society with a great job and family, Eric still can’t stand to have any shut doors in his house for fear of what’s on the other side. In order to finally confront his phobia, he enlists some friends on a journey to America’s most haunted places. But deep down he knows it’s only when he digs up the ghosts of his past, especially Laura, that he’ll find the peace he’s looking for.”

When I first saw the eerie cover and read the above description, I assumed this was a novel. It’s not; it’s a memoir. The instant I realized this was not fiction, the story became all the more compelling to me. A book about being really haunted? YES!

Nuzum neither presumes that ghosts are real or not real, he simply tells his own story with being haunted and how it became a contributing factor in a downward spiral of despair in self-destruction. While a teenager, Nuzum did many things that were unlikeable, and was, as he admits, not a very likeable guy. He drank, did lots of drugs, acted crazy, was rude and mean and occasionally vicious. Some memoir writers might describe these same sorts of events as a way to garner sympathy, or to pawn off and blame their faults on somebody else, or to revel in the freedom or coolness of the act. Nuzem, thankfully, does none of these things. Rather, he states the facts as he remembers them (perhaps not accurately, he notes), while accepting and taking responsibility for his mistakes. He seems to tell the story the way many people tell ghost stories — matter of factly — and perhaps will the aim of exorcizing some of his past ghosts.

As much as the story is about his downward spiral, it is even more so about his rise and the friend who held him up and kept him sane. Laura, who was very much a mystery in his life, unwilling to share much (or any) of her own truths, helped Nuzum keep track of, organize, and make peace with his own sorrows and fears and wobbliness. Their friendship is entertaining and touching to read.

Giving up the Ghost is a well written and compelling read. There’s no ultimate resolution, of course, because life doesn’t have many ultimate resolutions. Many mysteries stay mysteries, and human beings can’t help but be haunted. Tthe ghosts of our past linger, hiding on the other side of the door whether we want them to or not.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]