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Book Cover Image: Giving Up the Ghost by Eric NuzumTitle: Giving Up the Ghost: A Story about Friendship, 80s Rock, a Lost Scrap of Paper, and What It Means to Be Haunted
Author: Eric Nuzum
ISBN: 9780385342438
No. of Pages: 320
Genre: Memoir

”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.”

Thoughts: However happily he lives his life now, with a beautiful wife, children, job and the essential American dream, Eric Nuzum remains troubled by his past. His close relationship with Laura and the relationship’s ultimate demise continues to upset him, and his experiences being haunted by a little girl in a blue dress have him avoiding anything remotely scary or ghost-related. After years of avoiding closed doors or spooky movies, Mr. Nuzum finally chooses to confront the otherworldly. Giving Up the Ghost is the documentation of his journey to determine the existence of ghosts and his moving tribute to his long-lost friend.

One of main issues with memoirs is the author’s reliability. All self-told stories will have some element of inaccuracies, and the trick is to determine whether this is deliberate or unconsciously wrought. Deliberate omissions are less acceptable even if they are understandable as no one wants to paint themselves in a horrible light. Thankfully, the deficiencies in Mr. Nuzum’s story do not appear to be calculated. Rather, a reader instinctively understands that much of what Mr. Nuzum discusses is so painful for him that any oversights are due to his inability to dig further into his psyche or into the past rather than a premeditated intent to deceive or omit facts.

That being said, as distressing as Mr. Nuzum’s past is for him, one cannot help but feel that there could have/ should have been more self-reflection. While he discusses his drug and alcohol abuse with nonchalance, Mr. Nuzum’s reasons for numbing himself to the world remain nebulous and unsatisfactory. There are indications that it was in large part due to his haunting by Little Girl, but this is more supposition on the part of the reader. Given how full of despair and hopelessness Mr. Nuzum is through much of his teenage years and the fact that he was able to overcome that to become a functional adult with family, friends, and a great job, one only wishes he would have dug a little deeper or explained a little more thoroughly as to his reasons behind his antisocial, self-destructive behavior.

However, the wish for more explanations about past behavior in no way diminishes a reader’s sympathy towards and enjoyment of Mr. Nuzum’s stark confessional and hunt for his personal ghosts. His ongoing love for Laura is as beautiful to behold as it is moving in its tragic demise. While his experiences highlight the fact that we can never truly understand or know another person, they also emphasize the essential need for friends. For it is his loneliness, however self-imposed, that ultimately leads to his downward spiral, and it is his unwavering friendship with Laura that brings him back to the functioning world again. No one can go through life without friends.

For those who remain dubious about ghosts, Mr. Nuzum’s conclusions about their existence are thought-provoking and poignant. While his searches among some of the nation’s most haunted locations yield nothing concrete to assuage his curiosity, he emerges from his experiences convinced that ghosts do exist but not in the forms people would technically consider. His journey to his final conclusions are breathtaking in their honesty and internal pain. Mr. Nuzum holds nothing back as he explains his past, his connection to Laura, and why he is so easily disturbed by the thought of spirits and otherworldly visitors. Giving Up the Ghost is a truly modern ghost story that is as upsetting and challenging as any memoir should be.

Acknowledgments: Thank you to LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers Program for my review copy!

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