Ghosts of Bergen County
Set in New York City and New Jersey on the cusp of the financial crisis, Ghosts of Bergen County is a literary mystery with supernatural elements.
Gil Ferko is a private-equity lieutenant who commutes to Manhattan from the New Jersey suburbs. His wife, Mary Beth, has become a shut-in since a hit-and-run accident killed their infant daughter. When Ferko reconnects with Jen Yoder, a former high school classmate, Jen introduces him to heroin. As his dependency on the drug grows, his downward spiral puts his life in danger and his career in jeopardy. Mary Beth has also found an escape—first in prescription drugs that numb her senses, then in the companionship of a mysterious girl who heightens them. A ghost? Mary Beth believes so. And Jen is also haunted. Years ago she witnessed a man she had just met fall from a rooftop. She walked away from the accident and has been haunted since by the question of why she did so. As her quest to rectify that mistake starts to collide with the mystery of the hit-and-run driver who killed Ferko and Mary Beth’s daughter, all of the characters are forced to face the fine line between fate and happenstance. Dana Cann’s debut novel is a tautly paced and intricately plotted story in which collective burdens manifest into hauntings.
These characters, their highs and lows, the ebbs and flows and eddies of their lives, and the literal and figurative hauntings that afflict them — it all feels so real. Gil Ferko and his wife, Mary Beth, are still recovering, several years later, from the death of their infant daughter. Cann does such a remarkable job of conveying the precariousness with which they are both tiptoeing away from their numbness towards a more real engagement with their loss and with the world that keeps moving on. Mary Beth develops a daily ritual with a little girl who we eventually learn is a ghost, and finding out what happened to the girl helps to bring Mary Beth out of her fog. Ferko’s job feels humdrum, so when he meets a couple of old acquaintances from high school, he is ripe to be moved by their influence, grateful for a downward spiral instead of indifferent inertia. His friend Jen is haunted and precarious too, and she reminds me of a gritty, lost 20- or 30-something from Laurie Weeks’s Zipper Mouth. I think what Dana Cann has succeeded most in is creating characters that feel real and interesting and who eschew tired tropes while weaving their stories together in a really compelling way. And like Emily St. John Mandel’s early fiction, Ghosts of Bergen County has intrigue and uncertainty that keep the pages turning, but it is also has amazing sentences and is firmly grounded in the literary.
—Emily Pullen, WORD Bookstore
Ghosts of Bergen County is addictive! Once I picked the book up I was unable to put it down. Within moments you care about the characters and what is going to happen to them on every page. The story is haunting, yet filled with real life struggles in our society. The ending blew me away and made me want to read the book all over again because I didn’t want the story to end. Cann is definitely an author to watch in the future.
—David Logan, Bookends