Cindy La Ferle on March 30th, 2011
A college campus is its own village, full of folklore and traditions and initiation rituals. Like a village, it has its haunted places, its ghost stories.” – Michigan author Laura Kasischke
It’s nowhere near Halloween, but here I am, waxing poetic about the supernatural. I just finished reading a new literary thriller, The Raising, and can’t stop thinking about “ghosts” and how we’re haunted by people and places from our past.
If Daphne du Maurier were alive today, this is the sort of novel she’d write. Part gothic suspense, part ghost story, it’s deliciously creepy and atmospheric. Set on the campus of a prestigious Michigan university, The Raising circles around a car accident that killed Nicole Werner, a straight-A sorority sister. Driving on the night of the accident, her boyfriend miraculously (or mysteriously) survived the crash. A year later, it’s rumored that Nicole has been spotted on campus. From then on, the goosebumps don’t let up.
Mira Polson, the cultural anthropology professor who teaches a seminar on the folklore of death rituals at the university, is among the novel’s most intriguing characters, giving the plot its much-needed weight and focus. Mira delivers some compelling — and well-researched — theories on our collective fear of dying and the dead. In contrast to Mira’s macabre obsession with her topic are the college students whose cavalier sexuality and cruel beauty drive the story to its end. (Most college students believe they’re immortal, don’t they?) One caveat: If you’re a female student considering Greek life, you’ll think twice before stepping inside a sorority house after reading this one.
Award-winning author Laura Kasischke, who teaches at the University of Michigan in the MFA program, deftly moves back and forth between past and present, interweaving the back stories of her characters without muddling her plot or confusing her readers. She’s also careful enough to avoid the typical Stephen King horror cliches — though I see terrific possibilities for one heck of a spooky screenplay.
I agree with some of the reviewers who were a bit disappointed in the novel’s conclusion. Without revealing too much here, I’d hoped for a bit more closure on the “whereabouts” of certain characters, not to mention retribution for others. That said, life itself doesn’t always wrap up the way we’d like it to — and the ending of this novel didn’t spoil the experience of reading it.
It’s been a long time since I’ve picked up a book and couldn’t it put down, so I’m especially grateful to the indie bookstore in St. Joseph, Michigan, where I found this one on a “staff recommends” shelf. My only wish is that it had been released a little closer to Halloween. — Cindy La Ferle