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The Ghost Notebooks
Cover of The Ghost Notebooks
The Ghost Notebooks
A Novel
Borrow Borrow
Belletrist Book of the Month
"[An] elegant, eerie new novel . . . Powerful." —The Washington Post

A supernatural story of love, ghosts, and madness as a young couple, newly engaged, become caretakers of a historic museum.
When Nick Beron and Hannah Rampe decide to move from New York City to the tiny upstate town of Hibernia, they aren't exactly running away, but they need a change. Their careers have flatlined, the city is exhausting, and they've reached a relationship stalemate. Hannah takes a job as live-in director of the Wright Historic House, a museum dedicated to an obscure nineteenth-century philosopher, and she and Nick swiftly move into their new home. The town's remoteness, the speed with which Hannah is offered the job, and the lack of museum visitors barely a blip in their consideration.
At first, life in this old, creaky house feels cozy—they speak in Masterpiece Theater accents and take bottles of wine to the swimming hole. But as summer turns to fall, Hannah begins to have trouble sleeping and she hears whispers in the night. One morning, Nick wakes up to find Hannah gone. In his frantic search for her, Nick will discover the hidden legacy of Wright House: a man driven wild with grief, and a spirit aching for home.
Belletrist Book of the Month
"[An] elegant, eerie new novel . . . Powerful." —The Washington Post

A supernatural story of love, ghosts, and madness as a young couple, newly engaged, become caretakers of a historic museum.
When Nick Beron and Hannah Rampe decide to move from New York City to the tiny upstate town of Hibernia, they aren't exactly running away, but they need a change. Their careers have flatlined, the city is exhausting, and they've reached a relationship stalemate. Hannah takes a job as live-in director of the Wright Historic House, a museum dedicated to an obscure nineteenth-century philosopher, and she and Nick swiftly move into their new home. The town's remoteness, the speed with which Hannah is offered the job, and the lack of museum visitors barely a blip in their consideration.
At first, life in this old, creaky house feels cozy—they speak in Masterpiece Theater accents and take bottles of wine to the swimming hole. But as summer turns to fall, Hannah begins to have trouble sleeping and she hears whispers in the night. One morning, Nick wakes up to find Hannah gone. In his frantic search for her, Nick will discover the hidden legacy of Wright House: a man driven wild with grief, and a spirit aching for home.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book A component of our trouble—the thing that had taken our dis­content from the back burner and poured it directly onto our laps—was that Hannah had, a few months earlier, been laid off.

    It happened in winter, during an ice storm on a Friday afternoon: she called me crying from the break room and my first thought was that one of her parents had died. Is everything okay? No, she said, she was getting paid off. Paid off? Bribed? Not paid off, you fucking idiot, laid off! Laid off! Fired!

    For two years she'd been working at the New-York Historical Society on the Upper West Side, standing an hour a day on the Q, eating eleven-dollar salads on Columbus Avenue for lunch. She'd been in their exhibit research department, writing signs and brochures and scripts for the guides to recite while they led tourists through exhibits about New York's ports and Abraham Lincoln. America's most popular president, he is commonly associated with Illinois, where he made his mark as a lawyer, or Kentucky, where he was famously raised in a log cabin. Lesser known is the significant role that New York played in Lincoln's adult life.

    "This budget has just been a disaster for us," her boss explained; they were sitting in exactly the same positions as when he'd interviewed her. "I wish there were something we could do."

    We were lucky enough—i.e., we still had enough money from my job and our savings and our families—that Hannah being laid off was not an imminent practical disaster: we would, for a while anyway, be able to pay the rent, and buy groceries without scrutinizing per-unit prices, and keep our gym mem­berships. But practical disasters, it turns out, aren't the only kinds of disasters. In the weeks and months afterward I came to understand, in a way I hadn't really when my acquaintance with people losing their jobs had been mostly via CNN headlines and Raymond Carver stories, why being laid off—even laid off from a job you've enjoyed, as opposed to needed—was always high on the list of stressful things that could happen to a per­son, and to a relationship. All of our tensions seemed now to have been dipped in a horrible radioactive juice; some nights I'd wake up at three in the morning with my legs sweating only to discover that Hannah was awake and sweating too—we were tangled together like sheets of damp saran wrap.

    The first visible outgrowth of her being laid off was that she decided we should move (she spent a great deal of each day demonstrating, via job sites, that the only jobs available in her field happened to be outside the five boroughs). Whether to move was, we both understood, a proxy war over whether to get married. This meant that every job offer she came across led to a tense, desolate conversation about something like the housing market in Philadelphia or the lack of public transit in Atlanta. Many nights, as we sat eating dinner, lifting our forks to our faces with the blank, weary expressions of refugees, I had the feeling that we were actors in a play: The End of Love, now appearing at the Flea, acted with torturous realism by newcom­ers Hannah Rampe and Nick Beron.

    I was working then, and had been for the last few years, as an assistant music editor. This meant editing music for movies, mostly mid-budget dramas that I would never have gone to see if I hadn't had anything to do with them. I was the assistant to a thin, bedraggled man named Jeremy who did all the actual creative work—the composing and the arranging and the watching and rewatching of the same eleven-second scene, trying to decide whether the emotional tenor of the moment called for an oboe...
About the Author-
  • BEN DOLNICK lives in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter. He is the author of the novels At the Bottom of Everything, You Know Who You Are, and Zoology, and his work has appeared in GQ, The New York Times, and on NPR.
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    December 1, 2017
    A dream job at a writer's house turned museum becomes nightmarish for a young couple.The fourth novel by Dolnick (At the Bottom of Everything, etc.) is narrated by Nick, a musician scraping by in New York City with his girlfriend, Hannah. Though she's just lost her job at a historical society, she thinks she's found a great new replacement gig: managing the upstate New York home of Edmund Wright, a 19th-century writer with eccentric interests (he attempted to create an encyclopedia of all possible human sensations) and a tragic past. Despite the author's eerie back story, the Hudson Valley house at first seems idyllic, giving Nick time to write songs while Hannah leads school groups. But when Hannah is found dead by a riverbank not long after their arrival, Nick has a hard time processing all the related informational inputs: Hannah's past mental health issues, dark stories about former caretakers, and the ghost stories that surrounded Edmund Wright himself. The constituent pieces of the plot are unconvincingly stitched together: Hannah's parents are overprotective by the standards of a 4-year-old let alone a 20-something, Nick commits a crime that's out of character, and it's hard to imagine what school group would want to visit the Wright home at all given the proposed classroom activities. ("Can you list five experiences from your own life that were painful? Please be as detailed as possible.") And for a story ostensibly about hauntedness, there isn't much of a frightening vibe. Its strength is as a tale about a young man's grief, capturing the mental blind alleys bereavement sends us down and the feeling that "every house is a haunted house." But though Dolnick is a strong observational writer playing with a variety of forms (memoir loose, 19th-century formal), the prevailing feeling is of a supernatural tale falling short of its ambitions.A ghost story that's more clunky than creepy.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    December 18, 2017
    Dolnick’s immersive novel, about how little people know about their loved ones, adds a supernatural element to that topic. Newly engaged, Nick Beron and Hannah Rampe leave Queens for the remote upstate village of Hibernia. Hannah embraces her role as the live-in director of the Edmund Wright Historic House, which celebrates an obscure 19th-century philosopher, and Nick refocuses on his music career. Then they learn that the house has been the site of several mysteries since the gruesome death of Wright’s young son deepened Wright’s obsession with the unseen. As Hannah withdraws, battles insomnia, and begins to hear voices at night, Nick struggles to support her. Then he awakens to find her gone. When the search for her fails to yield clear answers, his effort to discover what haunted her leads through local stories and long-hidden documents that only entangle him in Hannah’s fears, Wright’s anguish, and forces neither could control. Nick’s convincing narration, a chronicle of blind spots and good intentions, is chief among the devices Dolnick (At the Bottom of Everything) deploys to give familiar motifs a contemporary sensibility in this ghost tale, love story, mystery, and bildungsroman.

  • Library Journal

    January 1, 2018

    In Dolnick's fourth novel (after At the Bottom of Everything), New York City couple Nick Beron and Hannah Rampe are at a crossroads in their relationship and their professional lives, with musician Nick's career stalled and Hannah just laid off from her position as a museum exhibits researcher. Then a promising opportunity presents itself, and Hannah accepts the directorship of the Edmund Wright Historic House in rural Hibernia, NY. Wright, an obscure 19th-century philosopher, endured the tragic death of a son, and other mysterious deaths to haunt the property. When Hannah starts hearing voices and having trouble sleeping, Nick wonders if she is faithfully taking her antidepressants. Then she disappears, and Nick embarks on a journey that will take him into the past and the future as he uncovers long-kept secrets and connections that stand the test of time. Unfortunately, neither Nick nor Hannah ever seems fully invested in the other, and the weightier themes here suffer. Once Nick is on his own, his obsession just doesn't ring true. VERDICT A well-constructed, creepy, psychological tale about a relationship that barely warrants such attention; the asides into Wright's life and work are welcome, and one wishes for more of this thread to hold it all together.--Jennifer B. Stidham, Houston Community Coll. Northeast

    Copyright 2018 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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The Ghost Notebooks
A Novel
Ben Dolnick
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