My mother can usually tell when she's reading an author's first novel, because "they try to put everything they know into it". When I got to the end of Ghosted, I knew it was a first novel without having to flip to the "About the Author" blurb. There is a lot going on in this book.
The story follows a guy named Mason, who has been dicking around for five years and getting in varying amounts of trouble. We meet him in his new apartment on Spadina, secured for him by his friend Chaz - a small time gangster and potentially the most likeable character in the book. Mason has a cocaine problem, a booze problem, and a gambling problem; he spends the first half of the book basically handing over money to Chaz, who is not only his landlord, but also his dealer and poker buddy.
Eventually, through his job selling hotdogs (something Chaz also, unsurprisingly, set him up with), Mason hits on a better scheme: ghostwriting suicide notes. Sounds like the set up for a whimsical, if slightly dark, tale of redemption, right?
Yeah, no. This book is definitely funny at times, but mostly it is depressing and scary. I can't say much else about the plot because there are quite a few surprises (well, I was surprised) but I will lay this out right now in case you are thinking of reading it, because I wish I had known in advance: there is a scene of child rape that is graphically written. You need to know it happens, but you can skip the actual paragraph without missing anything salient.
This is a story about empathy and redemption. There is a lot to take away from it. I think that a couple of the characters and situations were a bit superfluous and could have been saved for another book, and I think Mason dicks around for too long in the beginning. That said, Bishop-Stall is definitely a very gifted writer who has a keen understanding of some nitty-gritty shit that most people don't get to. I was never bored reading it. But for a book that drags you down so hard, there needed to be less of it.
There's definitely some cool Toronto scenery, especially around College and Spadina. Someone kills themselves on the subway tracks, and someone else gets hit by a streetcar. Fun stuff.
I will read Bishop-Stall's second novel and like it even more, I'm sure. This one gets three CN Towers out of five.