“Haunted” is the story of two girls, sometimes friends, sometimes not, who grew up together on nearby farms during a time when farms were failing all around them. In fact, since both of them were in no small part tomboyish, the two spent a good deal of their free time exploring the abandoned farmhouses that neighbored their own. Despite the warnings of their parents to stay away from the falling down old houses and barns and their abandoned wells, and the rumor that many of the old places were haunted by the ghosts of previous owners, the two girls liked nothing better than to explore them.
Oates paints the picture of what seems to be a normal rural childhood, one in which the farm kids are bused to town for schooling and where the “townies” become the natural elite whose favor is courted by those from the country. Nothing could be more natural than that the two girls begin to drift apart as they enter their middle school years and one starts to be recognized for a natural beauty and sex appeal that the other does not have. About the only thing that the two still have in common, as one is drawn more and more into the orbit of the town kids, is their love for exploring the old home places, even the one where a bloody murder-suicide took place years earlier.
But even when things seem perfectly normal, Oates is building the reader’s suspicion that the story will not end well for the girls, throwing little hints, one-sentence flashbacks, and a change of perspective from a teenaged narrator to somber narration by that same person some decades later. Despite the numerous clues and disclosures provided by Oates, this one still reads like a train wreck that one can see coming from a mile up the tracks: it feels inevitable, but is still a shock.
Rated at: 4.0