“Reality never changes. Only our recollections of it do. Whenever a moment passes, we pass along with it into the realm of memory. And in that realm, geometries change. Contours shift, shades lighten, objectivities dissolve. Memory becomes what we need it to be.”
The Saturday Night Ghost Club is a coming-of-age novel that takes place over one fateful summer where lessons are learned and relationships take on new meanings. Our protagonist is a 12 year-old boy named Jake, living in Niagara Falls in the 1980s. This particular summer, Jake befriends two siblings, Ben and Dove, and the three take part in a “Saturday Night Ghost Club” that is hosted by Jake’s eccentric uncle, Calvin. Calvin runs the local occultorium, and is deeply invested in conspiracy theories and the occult, but is generally a kind and fun, if slightly offbeat man. As the summer goes on, however, Jake starts to wonder if there is something off about his uncle and their ghost-hunting adventures. Interspersed with narration from an adult Jake as he looks back on this summer, it is clear that something was taking place that Jake didn’t then understand as a young boy, but can see so clearly now in retrospect.
This novel does certainly telegraph early on that something wrong is in the works with Uncle Calvin. This might seem like it would reduce suspense or the effect of a twist, but I thought it really added to the sense of unease before the final drop; there are signs all along the way, but as a young boy maybe Jake didn’t see them and can only clearly picture it in retrospect as an adult. Or perhaps, as a boy he didn’t want to see, as admitting that something is amiss is a scary thing to do.
As with the last novel I reviewed, I understand that the male character is the protagonist of this story, but that doesn’t mean that the female figures need to feel just like props. Jake’s mother is an important figure in the conclusion of this novel and how her choices have impacted the lives of those around her, and for the most part she works as an adult character who reveals new information that heavily influences Jake’s coming-of-age moment in this novel. But when I express a qualm about the female characters in this novel, I am mostly talking about Dove. She is not a manic pixie dream girl, but more the edgy, enigmatic cool girl with deeps thoughts she can’t express but her sorrow makes her all the more beautiful, I guess? She is there to give Jake some first feelings of love of rejection, but beyond that she is a figure of desire and mystery whose purpose is to change the young boy’s life. Ultimately her place in the novel didn’t feel as important in terms of a developing and meaningful relationship as Jake’s relationship with Ben, to me. Yet, Ben gets hardly any development as a character, despite enduring as a figure in Jake’s life beyond this summer and into adulthood. I perhaps would have liked to have seen more attention paid to this friendship over the energy given to the mystery cool girl device. Maybe that’s just me, though, and ultimately isn’t a huge sticking point in the grand scheme of things.
In the end, The Saturday Night Ghost Club is an eerie, but quite gentle novel. It raises questions about what we are willing to do for the people we love, and the difficult choices we make when trying to figure out what is best for them, particularly when it comes to their own agency in their lives. It is about how we reconcile the decisions we make depending on our perceptions of the harm that people may do to themselves or others. And of course, it is about the ways that our brain tries to protect us, whether or not it is always successful in doing so or the thing that we really need. But if these issues are approached with understanding and caring, perhaps we can make life work, no matter the strange shapes it may take on.