Giving Up the Ghost: A Story About Friendship, 80s Rock, a Lost Scrap of Paper, and What It Means to Be Haunted
by Eric Nuzum
Nonfiction, 320 pages
Dial Press, Published August 7, 2012
Copy provided by publisher in exchange for honest review for TLC Book Tour
At once hilarious and incredibly moving, Giving Up the Ghost is a memoir of lost love and second chances, and a ghost story like no other.
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.
When I seek out nonfiction, I often look for books full of snark and humor to distract me from my daily grind. After reading the back cover blurb for Giving Up the Ghost, this book promised an entertaining walk through the 80s with an emphasis on the music with a twist of the paranormal. While this book wasn’t side splittingly obviously funny, it was an emotionally jarring and very raw walk through Eric Nuzum’s troubled teenaged years, contrasted with his attempts as an adult to understand what was wrong so long ago.
As a teenager, Eric was convinced he was haunted by the ghost of a little girl in a blue dress who lived in the attic of his house. First she came to him in his dreams and he could push them away with drugs and alcohol, but when she could approach him away from home and while he was awake, his life quickly began to spiral out of control until he wound up in a psych ward for a few weeks. With few friends and a family that wasn’t supportive as he hit bottom, his only bright spot was his best friend Laura–a spirited, bright but secretive girl who never let Eric get too close. Even though she helped pull him out of his deep depression and put him back on his feet, Eric never got the chance to really explore the potential of their relationship as Laura left for college–leaving him with a cryptic poem on a scrap of paper that plagued him for years to come. And soon thereafter, Laura became another ghost to Eric, just like so many of his other friends before her.
Written in a free flowing journalistic style, Giving Up the Ghost moves smoothly between the tumultuous past and the present, where Eric is convinced that if he can find proof of ghosts, then he can know for sure if the Little Girl that haunted him when he was a teenager wasn’t just a symptom of mental illness and substance abuse. In the present, he visits famous supposedly haunted spots like Gettysburg and prisons, dragging his friends along for the ride as he looks for some shred of the truth.
A big part of the book includes music from the 80s that Eric Nuzum listened to and found influential. While I was a teenager more towards the end of the 80s/early 90s, I remember most of this music fondly and the author even has a playlist up on his website where you can check out some of the songs that were in the book. Reading about bands like Suicidal Tendencies, Black Flag, and Kiss certainly brought a smile to my face as I read. Music played a big part in Eric and Laura’s relationship, and remembering mix tapes and records was a nice blast from the past.
But the real meat of this story is in the past, and this is the part I devoured, reading until I just had to put it down for the night even though I wanted to go straight through. The teenaged angst was so palpable, and the emotions were very real. I give this one a five out of five. Sometimes the ghosts that are in your life are actual, but sometimes they’re metaphorical too and just won’t go away no matter how much you want to let them go.
Eric Nuzum is a recovering pop culture critic, VH1 pundit, and author of Parental Advisory: Music Censorship in America and The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires From Nosferatu to Count Chocula. He was awarded the 2002 National Edward R. Murrow Award for News Writing and his work has appeared in a few publications you’ve heard of and many more that you haven’t heard of. He works for National Public Radio in Washington, D.C., where he lives with his wife. He has just finished his next book, a memoir about ghosts, entitled Bring Me To Heaven.
He opines regularly on his Web site, www.ericnuzum.com.
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