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Giving Up the Ghost by Eric Nuzum

Book Review


Giving Up the Ghost, a new memoir by Eric Nuzum, delves into the writer's adolescence when he descended into drug use and depression, eventually ending up in a mental institution. However, unlike most memoirs about the young and crazy, Nuzum wasn't just troubled, he was haunted.

Nuzum attributed many of his issues to repeated visitations by a ghostly young girl in a blue dress who filled him with a deep dread he needed desperately to numb with pills, alcohol and underground '80s music.

Nuzum's biggest area of solace came from a complicated friendship with an emotionally elusive girl named Laura. The two shared a deep and intimate connection that was never consummated. Shortly after she moved away to attend college, she died in a traffic accident.

The memory of that friendship tormented Nuzum for decades.

Eventually, he set out to resolve his feelings and hopefully solve the mystery of the girl in the blue dress at the same time.

It's difficult to review a memoir. To some degree, you are dissecting not just the piece of literature, but the life of the person who penned it. To say that events seem dubious is to question the author's character. To say that the narrative voice isn't empathetic or doesn't work is to say the person is a jerk.

Nuzum isn't a jerk. But he does underplay the terror of his ghostly visitations. The little girl--who is put forward as the driving character of the plot--makes precious few intrusions into the text. Some of the more important visitations are backloaded to further explore his friendship with Laura. We meet Nuzum as a middle-aged man exploring the East Coast's most haunted sites, attempting to face his issues with ghosts. But not until a third of the way through the book is the little girl truly driving him mad.

No matter what the back jacket says, Giving Up the Ghost isn't really about ghosts. It's about that one magic summer when everything changed and you started to become the person you are. It's just that for Nuzum, that summer was an 18-month battle with mental illness and the person most integral to his adulthood wasn't there to help him process the experience. Once the book begins to delve into those issues, it becomes a thoughtful deconstruction of a complicated adolescence. But it takes awhile to get there.