... a rich and layered reading experience ... It’s a dramatic setup, but the first two-thirds of Ghost Town are deliciously slow, lingering in the details and inviting readers into the characters’ internal lives ... The final third contains the kind of grand revelations that can sometimes feel overwrought, especially after such a slow, meandering journey through memory and loss. But Chen sets it up masterfully enough that, instead, the ending feels inevitable ... full of gauzy prose and dark imagery. Darryl Sterk’s translation has a dreamlike quality, and it’s clear how much care he took to render the nuances of the original Taiwanese into English. This isn’t an easy read, but like a ghost, it lingers.
Each main character gets many opportunities to tell stories in a loose, this-reminds-me-of-that fashion — with important elements emerging in an incidental fashion — even when, as is quite often the case, they are detailing incidences of cruelty, especially from parents. The manifold ways in which their upbringing and natures combine to form their adult selves is another intricately formed element of an uncompromising, unsentimental, slyly humorous novel.
... certainly cinematic ... Chen divulges key events in his fiction--T's mysterious murder, the black dog's execution, Plenty's and neighbor Nut Wang's suicides--in multi-voiced, circular repetition, each time adding a little more information, as if to increase the circumference and take up more space. With each iterative reveal, Chen gloriously resurrects the dead--and emboldens the living.
... the literary equivalent of a suitcase jammed full to the point of bursting. Characters, memories, regrets, choices, consequences, secrets, history, politics, real estate, sex: They’re all pressed together close, like unwashed clothes after a long trip. Open the case up even a little bit and the dirty laundry starts spilling out ... The narration has an associative fluidity that mirrors, often to thrilling effect, the mechanics of memory, a common but elusive writerly target ... Each family member along with many others, gets a back story. They unfold so quickly that they sometimes feel thin, more like bullet points than lives ... What did Keith do in Berlin? Why? The answer, when it comes, is tied up with dark trends in German society and politics. It is, by far, the weakest part of the book. All the other components, however rushed, exist in a harmonious artistic circuit, each node supporting and energizing the others. The fact that the characters sometimes feel two-dimensional doesn’t stop their relationships from pulsing with heat and feeling. The story of Keith’s time in Germany is disconnected from this grid. In the book’s flattest moments, his crime feels like a crude lure dangled to coax the reader along. It’s sealed in its own compartment in the overstuffed suitcase, and would have benefited from getting tangled and smushed with the rest. It might have been messier. But, as the rest of Ghost Town shows so well, life gets messy, and Chen is an author who can handle it.
Author Kevin Chen has done a masterful job of managing his material, creating multidimensional characters, a beautifully realized setting, and an apposite surprise ending. Meanwhile, Chen and his family’s stories are uniformly interesting, and seamless in their portrayal of the characters’ intersecting lives. The author’s afterword notes that he always wanted to write a ghost story; this resulting book is excellent.
As multigenerational family sagas go, they don't get more intense and operatic than Ghost Town ... reminiscent of the dreamlike narratives of Can Xue and Gabriel Garcia Marquez and will require readers to hold on tight to their sense of reality as the prose blurs lines between the living and the dead, the past and the present, and finally, the guilty and the innocent ... a maximalist performance that often walks the fine line between echoic and repetitive ... Despite the darkness of the material, the passion in the prose is unmistakable, and there are many lovely moments ... Even though the plot kicks off with a murder mystery, the heart of the novel is about Keith's coming of age of a gay man in a conservative rural town. His sisters, each in their own ways, are empathetic to Keith's difficult upbringing and pine for their brother to come home. The Chen family's collective longing to reunite in the face of constant tragedy fuels an exhilarating and often quite moving reading experience. Ghost Town is simply tough to put down and you'll be thinking about the Chens long after you've left Yongjing.
... haunting if overstuffed ... These strands, along with flashbacks of Keith’s relationship with T in Berlin, have a sort of stuttered pacing, but Chen does a great job creating atmosphere ... Eventually, Chen gets into the nightmarish details around T’s killing, but it takes too long to bring everything together. Though vivid, this ambitious novel is a bit too unwieldy.
... there are moments when Chen creates a truly eerie atmosphere ... But, despite the diversity of narrators, there isn’t much diversity of voice—a lack of interiority makes it difficult to distinguish one character from another—and most of this story is told in a flat, expository style that is, ultimately, wearying. There is something initially powerful in the way that Chen presents cruelty as commonplace, but this stylistic choice quickly reaches a point of diminishing returns. It seems likely that most readers will either become anesthetized to the brutality or simply quit reading ... hen’s exploration of generational trauma is both too much and not enough.