If Drugs Could Bring Back the Dead

Author: Clay Mcleod Chapman

What if your high could take you beyond this world? What if it could bring back your dead, reunite you with all the people you have ever loved and lost? Would you take that pill? Would you ever be able to stop taking it?

I admit, when I first heard that my horror book club picked Ghost Eaters, I was all together disappointed. Stories about drugs and drug culture aren’t my usual go-to reads, and I had liked the other options far better. But I challenge myself to read whatever is chosen. That’s the point of a book club, after all, to get you out of your narrative comfort zone. And I am so elated that I chose to read this all together creepy, poignant, unforgettable story of grief and addiction and toxic relationships and hauntings. I listened to the audio book and after I finished it, I immediately ordered a hardcover copy, because I will read this again, and because I need more stacks of books scaling the walls and piling around the furniture in my house. Obviously.

The story starts in a graveyard, a group of too-cool-for-school kids literarily tripping among the tombstones on a mission when they are interrupted by the police. This introduces us to the gritty world of Ghost Eaters. The world where Erin and her friends, including her ex-boyfriend, ring-leader Silas, experiment with drugs, talk a big talk, and ultimately watch their individual lives fall apart. But Erin is trying. Trying to do better. Trying to not necessarily stay clean but stay clean enough to pay the bills and have a life, get a good job, sustain herself. But Erin will do anything Silas says. And Silas says break him out of rehab. Silas says let him stay over. Silas says let him eat off her life until there is nothing left. Erin breaks, sends Silas away, and later that same night he is found dead of an overdose. The grief, the pain, the longing for the man she never stopped loving is more consuming than any drug, more profound and disturbing than the worst disappointments she has ever known.

When Erin’s friend asks her later if she “wants to get haunted” she doesn’t understand. But she soon learns that a new drug, called Ghost, brings Silas back to her. Unfortunately, it has unimaginable side effects. Soon Erin is running from the grasping, cloying dead. The dead who want the Ghost too, who want her life force. Erin is also trying to run from the other Ghost addicts, the people who are devolving into their own grief and will do absolutely anything to see their loved ones again. In this new, haunted world, day and night collapse and everything you see is some perverse simulacrum of what you once had and lost. It’s a testament to the inevitabilities of addiction, the preying nature of dealers and charlatans who destroy people, and the long-lasting effects of grief and guilt.

Ghost Eaters starts realistically. It’s seedy and gritty, but the characters and their circumstances resonate with the day-to-day sadness of a recognizable world. But then Ghost itself takes hold, and the strangeness takes on the resonance and terror of a fever dream. The end sequences are ones of true, psychedelic terror, the depictions of rock bottom populated by deformed, mewling ghost babies, micro-mushroom things sucking the remaining life from the rot of a corpse, and the grasping hideousness of being eaten alive by the desire for what is dead and gone. It’s haunting and unforgettable, a testament on so many levels beyond the horrors of imagination into the pivotal essence of doomed humanity. It’s sad, but it’s also uplifting, a slew of warnings stacked inside a grim fairy tale.

Ghost Eaters is unforgettable, both for its reality and surrealness and the clever storytelling that turns the character’s world upside down. It is haunting, and it does leave us haunted, scared, maybe a little bit addicted, and in need of rescuing and craving escape. One more hit. One more moment in this ugly, beautiful, decaying fantasy of a world.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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