10 Books and Stories That Haunt Us From Room Magazine’s Ghost-issue Editors

Melissa Barrientos

Ghosts. The word inspires images of blanket-covered Caspers, eerie rumbles in haunted houses, and intricate stories that make it onto the horror movie screen. But, at its roots, ghosts are beings that haunt us. Whether that is an ancestor floating the halls of your childhood home, the talkative folktale character slipping into your daily life, the imprints of things intangible, the versions of self, lost to time, or the harrowing vision of a warped being lingering in your nights. These are the stories that need to be told. These hauntings allow us to self-reflect, to see between the lines of reality and the other, and to feel something beyond us.

In preparation for Issue 46.3: Ghosts, the editors of the issue collected a list of ten works of writing currently haunting them:

  1. MONUMENT by Manahil Bandukwala (Brick Books, 2022). In this stunning poetic debut, Manahil Bandukwala converses with the ghost of Mughal Empress Mumtaz Mahal, breathing life into the spaces carved out by the unspoken. In these pages, the span of four centuries is distilled. Bandukwala layers time, deconstructs history, and reconstructs the possibility of alternate storylines, urging her readers to reconsider the legacies we are taught to believe in.  —Ellen Chang-Richardson
  2. Suture by Nic Brewer (Book*hug, 2021). In the words of the inimitable Canisia Lubrin, Brewer’s Suture is “a nimble, fearless debut” and a poignant exploration into a different type of ‘haunting.’ These pages follow the interwoven stories of three artists who tear themselves open for the sake of their work. Raw, jarring, and hyper-realistic in its gentle body horror, Brewer forces us to ponder the lengths to which we will go in search of our own truths. —Ellen Chang-Richardson
  3. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (Viking Press, 1962). This gothic novella follows two sisters and their uncle, the only survivors of a family tragedy. With its incredibly unique characters and character voices, mystery, and many gothic mainstays, I’m always coming back to this book to understand the characters, and better piece together all the many hidden clues of backstory. —Lena Belova
  4. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (HarperCollins, 2017). Eleanor Oliphant is one of the strongest and funniest protagonists I’ve ever read. Haunted by her childhood, she leads a genuine exploration of the miracles of connecting with others in a lonely age. —Lena Belova
  5. The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante (Edizioni e/o, 2011–2014). I come back to this series again and again, almost yearly. These novels are full of poetic lyricism, sharp feminist and anarchist theory, tender and caustic friendships, melodrama, and history. With each re-reading of the series, I focus in on different threads and find some new revelation or theme each time. —Lena Belova
  6. Soucouyant by David Chariandy (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2007). This debut novel follows an unnamed protagonist trying to collect the fragmented memories of his mother, Adele, who has early-onset dementia. She recalls her life growing up in Trinidad during World War II, her arrival in Canada during the early sixties, and her encounter with a soucouyant, a vampire-like, evil spirit in Caribbean folklore. With threads of intergenerational trauma, diasporic histories, and intertwined memory woven carefully throughout the novel, Soucouyant explores the hauntings that follow us through time, lands, and memory. —Melissa Barrientos
  7. “Friend of My Youth” by Alice Munro (McClelland & Stewart, 2011). This is one of my favourite Alice Munro stories for its curling storyline. Starting with the ghost of her late mother appearing in a recurrent dream, the narrator dives into a story her mother once told her of Flora and Ellie Grieves. These two sisters follow a strict Cameronian religion and come at strange odds when Ellie becomes pregnant from Flora’s husband. Flora welcomes this change in her high-spirited and hardworking manner. While gripped in the story of Flora and Ellie and resentment and freedom, the reader forgets that the narrator’s mother haunts the story’s edges until the narrator imagines the unfinished ending to her mother’s story with the ghostly figures of Flora and her mother in her youth. —Melissa Barrientos
  8. Through the Woods by Emily Carroll (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2014). A graphic novel that creeped me out in the best way and spoke to an alienated and lonely young version of me—though, let’s face it, that version of you never leaves. This is probably why Carroll’s stories, with her unique flourishes of light and darkness, violent pops of colour, and sinister twists, drew me down the garden path and into the woods. “It came from the woods. Most strange things do.” —Rachel Thompson
  9. What My Bones Know: A Memoir of Healing from Complex Trauma by Stephanie Foo (Ballantine Books, 2022). This memoir has been a journey of a read that had me laughing, crying, wincing with familiarity, and then reaching out and talking to writer-friends who read it too—other writers whose lives are touched by trauma. The book adeptly illustrates how to write a first-rate memoir with skillful scenic rendering and profound reflection. Yet it’s more than a memoir, as Foo provides a deep, researched exploration of the modalities for recovery from complex trauma. As she says, there’s not a lot out there to give hope to people haunted by CPTSD, but this book makes me hopeful that exorcising (or learning to live with) its ghostly spectre is possible. —Rachel Thompson
  10. Various Lit Mag Hauntings. I have been revisiting some of my favourite ghost-themed stories and poems published in lit mags, anticipating reading and accepting submissions for our upcoming issue. Of them, the CNF piece “Ghost Story” by Maggie Smith (Brevity, 2020) stands out for sustaining a ghostly metaphor, as does “Dead Amy” by Michelle Kelm (honourable mention in Room’s fiction contest, 2017) for its characterization through voice, and “Ghost Festival” by Lacey Yong (Minola Review, 2020) for its diptych form that pulls us through two slices of experience, and the language Yong uses to show us horror in superficially benign experiences. Send more of this—plus surprising new writing in forms and themes we haven’t seen before—for Room’s Ghost issue, please! —Rachel Thompson

The deadline to submit to Room 46.3, Ghosts, is January 5, 2023.

Issue 46.3, Ghosts, is edited by Rachel Thompson, Ellen Chang-Richardson, Melissa Barrientos, and Lena Belova.

Boo! Let us know what works are haunting you for a follow-up list contributed by our readers. Email our lead editor Rachel Thompson at hello@rachelthompson.co (Subject line: “Ghosts” / Deadline: Dec 15) to share stories, poems, hybrid writing, and visual art that left their ghostly imprint on you recently or long ago. Be sure to also follow us on Instagram, Twitter, or other social media platforms to get snippets from our complete list.

Melissa Barrientos is a production editor who enjoys writing about life back home in Lima, Peru, when she is not editing or reading. She holds an HBA in English from the University of Toronto and a Publishing Certificate from Ryerson University. Melissa is also the co-founder of Archetype: A Literary Journal.

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