Betsy Phillips’ A City of Ghosts is a gem. This collection of sixty-one original stories is billed as ghost stories. These stories are ghost stories, but they are not just ghost stories. Or rather, they are not all just ghost stories. Though they spring from the fertile imagination of Betsy Phillips, a number of these short stories are very much in the tradition of folk tales. Some people would tell you that to qualify as a folk tale a story must be passed down through the oral tradition, teach a moral, and entertain. I believe that part of what you’ll find here is the birth of a new line of folk tales. Phillips offers up some masterful storytelling. The whole collection is presented in a conversational tone, as if it’s a record of stories told by a favorite aunt, in language that is beautiful (but not flowery) and reflects a deep understanding of human emotion.
This is also a remarkably diverse collection of stories. The stories vary in both length and spookiness. Some of the stories are quite short while others run several pages. Some of the stories will give you the shivers while others are more sentimental or reflective than scary. And some of the stories are altogether a departure from the traditional style of haunting story. Indeed, one of the things I most enjoyed about A City of Ghosts is the broad treatment of the concept of “hauntings.” Whether ghosts are real or imagined, there are a lot of things that haunt the living. You’ll find many of those things represented in this collection. You’ll also find that these stories, while made up, are firmly rooted in either the old history or the recent history of Nashville. For that reason, this book would be a fun gift for someone with a Nashville connection. But you don’t need to have made the acquaintance of Music City to enjoy these stories because, like most ghost stories, these are more about emotions than landmarks.
I should mention a couple of caveats. Phillips has marked this collection as “unsettling campfire stories for grown-ups.” Many of the stories here would be fine to tell in the company of children. However, a few really would not. All the stories are short enough to quickly pre-read before sharing. Also, while the format of the book is beautiful and suits its contents perfectly, it may be confusing without a heads up. The book is arranged into two sections- April and October- with a story for each day of each month. This arrangement is a nod to the legend that there are two nights per year when the barrier between life and afterlife is thinnest- May Eve and Halloween.
I hope you will pick up this book. It’s a fun read, thought provoking at times, and provides a new selection of stories to keep your friends and family entertained. It’s also a form of cultural record you won’t often find offered by a traditional publishing company. I hate to give this book away, but if you’d like a chance to win a signed copy please click over to the giveaway post.
*Many thanks to Betsy Phillips for providing a copy of ‘A City of Ghosts’ for review. You can find Betsy online at her blog, Tiny Cat Pants.
*You can read Biblioden’s interview with Betsy Phillips here.