A Review of Catie Disabato’s The Ghost Network
“Like a map of a world with slightly distorted proportions — almost normal looking at first, but on a second viewing, a terrible deviation, a ghost of a place that never was, a land that couldn’t be, a burning and terrible world beneath everything that we know to be real.”
The Ghost Network by Catie Disabato is like a subway map. It is a tangled web of (story)lines that weave in and out of one another, intersecting at key places, seemingly unfinished in others. But somehow, they come full circle.
At the nexus of the story is Molly Metropolis, a pop sensation and cultural icon who mysteriously disappears, and the people who go looking for her: Caitlin Taer, a wannabe music journalist; Regina Nix, Caitlin’s girlfriend and Molly’s assistant; and the ever-shady Nicholas Berliner, a member of Molly’s inner circle of confidants. Their stories, secrets, and subway escapades are inextricably linked to the question of Molly’s disappearance, and ultimately, to its answer.
It is a smartly and intricately plotted novel (within a novel) narrated from the perspective of Cyrus Archer, a journalist and academic who also vanishes while writing about the equally intriguing quartet of friends, and finished by his protégé, the eponymous Catie Disabato. The fictitious Catie, who inherits Cyrus’s unfinished manuscript, overlays the text with footnotes in an attempt to further clarify or elaborate on Cyrus’s findings.
At times, the level of detail in the story feels heavy. The footnotes that are scattered throughout the book, feel like red lights. It’s like when the train you’re riding in suddenly stops. In a tunnel. And. Stalls. As you wait. For the train ahead. To finally. Move. You can practically hear your own breath, or the song playing in your neighbor’s headphones, in the thick silence.
For the most part, though, the novel is incredibly efficient. Its journalistic tone lends a matter-of-fact, unsentimental telling of events. This is both a good and bad thing. On the one hand, there’s a certain realness to the story. The story is anchored in references to real-life places (the novel is set in the Chicago area in the present day) and pop culture references (think Britney Spears, Rihanna, and Lady Gaga). You forget that you’re reading a work of fiction. That said, the language feels a little uninspired and exacting. Safe to say, the writing is grounded, not soaring.
But this is not a book to be read like poetry, slow like honey (to quote Fiona Apple). Oh no. It is to be read for its fast-paced action. And coolness. And originality.
Like a train, the action quickly becomes unstoppable, roaring ahead to the next destination. What will happen next? you wonder as you quickly turn the page, breathless in anticipation. What happened to Molly? you think to yourself as you race toward the truth, one word, one sentence, one paragraph at a time. Until you reach the next chapter … or your stop. Whichever comes first.