book club guide – Ghost Eaters by Clay McLeod Chapman

image of book cover for ghost eaters by clay mcleod chapman - a standing figure covered by a sheet

Ghost Eaters by Clay McLeod Chapman is a horror story based (in part) on current real-life events taking place in North American cities every day. Luckily for us, Clay McLeod Chapman went and applied electrodes directly to real-life’s nipples in this creepy-ass novel, and we get to skip down the harrowing trail of destruction.*

Yeah, you read that right: I said electrodes. The result is a horrifically twisted tale of weakness, addiction, and haunting. And I love it.

Ghost Eaters is a great choice for a haunted book club, so buckle up and feel free to use the discussion points below!

Title: Ghost Eaters: a novel

Author(s): Clay McLeod Chapman

Date first published: 20 September 2022

Length: 304 pages

ISBN harmed in the making of this book club offering: 9781683693789 (it doesn’t matter if you use a different version, this just makes it clearer if/when pages/sections don’t perfectly align from whatever version you may be using). Published by Quirk Books. BY THE WAY, in case you hadn’t noticed, this edition of Ghost Eaters actually includes its own book club discussion questions at the end. Whatevs. I do what I want.

Book jacket blurb:

WHO are the main characters? The story is told in the first person by our main character, Erin Hill. Secondary main characters are Erin’s ex-boyfriend from college, Silas, and their two other college friends, Amara and Tobias. They are a few years out of college, and at that point where they’re figuring out that life sucks, and work sucks, and family sucks. Not really living their best lives, you know?

WHAT happens (no spoilers)? Erin is trying to get on with being an adult, trying to date and get a “real” job now that she’s realized it’s not all that straightforward to make a living after college as a writer. She continues to hold on to relationships with her college besties, and struggles to stay away from her ex. Girl, please… not a healthy attachment! Anyway, the book jacket blurb told you that Erin’s ex – Silas – dies of an overdose and, well, Erin is predictably not ok. Tobias comes along and convinces Amara and Erin that he can bring Silas back, and in their grief, they agree to participate in his bizarre plan. Right around this point in the story, I tagged Clay McLeod Chapman in an Instagram post, to which Mr. CMC replied that it was all downhill from there. Ohhh, hahaha, silly author being so silly! But no. Things took an immediate turn for the worse. And the worse, and worse, and worse. Shit rolls downhill at Mach 2 with its hair on fire. You have to read it and find out.

WHEN does the story take place? My best guesstimate is that Ghost Eaters is set pretty close to the present (2022 when the novel was first published). There are cell phones, and McMansions, and Facebook, but there is also still indoor smoking. Interpret those indicators as you see fit.

WHERE is Ghost Eaters by Clay McLeod Chapman set? The story is set in the US of A, in Richmond, Virginia and the nearby town of Hopewell. In the prologue, someone remarks that “everyone returns to Richmond someday”, and I actually have no idea if that’s true. Apparently I have family in Richmond, but I have never met them… maybe they can’t even get out?? 😱

WHY SHOULD YOU READ Ghost Eaters by Clay McLeod Chapman? Ghost Eaters is kind of messed up, in many great and horrible ways. There are elements of despair, grief, class struggle, racism, haunting, Victorian spiritualism, addiction, and many other timely and relevant themes. This is an example of modern horror writing that could (should!) be taught in English literature classes for its treatment of societal ills wrapped in a ghost story. If you wanna get haunted, you definitely wanna read Ghost Eaters.

FOOD AND WINE PAIRINGS for Ghost Eaters by Clay McLeod Chapman:


  • cold turkey
  • white ladies (the cocktail, not the demographic)

🛑 Spoilers beyond this point! It is strongly recommended that you read the book before you continue with the conversation guide for your book club. Sections below correspond to the five parts in Ghost Eaters, in case your club needs multiple sessions to squeeze out all you can from this selection.

  • Ok, so technically just before part one – in the prologue, we find ourselves in the Hollywood Cemetery at night, on a mission Silas has dreamed up for the gang. They gain entry to a mausoleum and well, has anyone in the book club ever been inside a mausoleum? If yes, was it under legit circumstances, or were you there under the cover of darkness like Erin and her friends? Was it as creepy in there as the horror genre would have us believe? If no, would you willingly enter a mausoleum?
  • Silas defines the term “revenant” as a person who is trapped between the living and the dead. In datestone (the first chapter), Erin thinks about the liminal spaces in our lives, with examples like the time immediately after graduation from college, and the transition from childhood to adulthood. How much of our lives would you say we spend as revenants (using Silas’s definition), versus the time we spend really living? How can you tell the difference?
  • Erin says “a ghost is someone caught in a loop, doomed to repeat the same actions over and over again.” Do you agree?
  • Erin is here. I don’t know for sure, but I think most of the time people who feel a connection to a place like to take something with them as a souvenir. Like maybe a seashell… a crappy keychain with the name of a city they visited… a t-shirt (I ❤️ NY)… even photographs, right? Why is Erin driven to leave her presence behind with her little wall scribblings?
  • So Silas died, and Erin is sad but she’s also stuck with all his stuff and no idea what to do with all of it. She checks out Silas’s Facebook and it appears that he’s actually responding to people mourning his death. First of all: did you know that you can name someone to take over your Facebook page in the event that you die? And second of all: if you figured out how, would you spend your ghostly afterlife scrolling and commenting on Facebook?
  • Is Ghost the real deal for doing what it claims to do? Aren’t there already drugs out there that make people see ghosts (and assorted other demons, killer clowns, flying pizza slices, etc.)?
  • Did DuPont (the chemical company) really have a gun powder plant in Hopewell during World War II? Somebody quick, google that shit! I mean, in case you didn’t know, DuPont has done some pretty unforgivable things in the past (you can google that too… don’t come after me, DuPont!), so what are the chances that they left a few revenants to wander around Hopewell?
  • On page 79, Erin and Amara were making jokes about the unfinished housing subdivision, asking Tobias if the house they are going toward was built over an “Indian burial ground”, and whether the developers “only moved the headstones”. Erin guesses Tobias didn’t get the joke when he responds by saying “these houses are clean”. Which one of them actually missed the joke? Did you get the joke? If not, then please please please send me a comment below so I can help solve this one for you! 👻
  • Listening to Tobias pitching Ghost in the vacant house, Amara insists that memories and spirits are not the same thing, despite Tobias’s claim that they can conjure spirits by combining the Ghost capsules and their memories. Really, whatever he is selling does kind of sound like bullshit. What say the book club – do you agree with Amara or Tobias?
  • Erin swipes the notebook that Tobias had been carrying around, only to discover that it was blank. Is Tobias trying to pull a fast one here? Can we trust him to be telling the truth? Can we trust Erin’s perception at this point?
  • In the final chapter of part two, Erin experiences a sort of flashback to when she and Silas went to an abortion clinic to end a pregnancy. Her memory morphs into the present, and a rather blue and dead-looking Silas is there just before she hallucinates falling into the James River. Tobias believes Silas is there. What do you think… did Erin make a connection with Silas, or was she stone cold tripping?
  • I don’t know about y’all, but I was holding my breath during Erin’s entire encounter with the watery old lady under the plastic tarp. Creepy!! Super creepy. Anyway, is that plastic-wrapped presence the same one we see on the cover of the book? If your copy has the same cover as the one shown at the start of this guide, go back and give it a fresh look. Do you see the face? Did you notice the graffiti in the background?
  • Desperate to connect with Silas, Erin has the bright idea to snort some of that Ghost powder. Yikes. The melted face guy who slides under the stall to look at her like a toddler in a public washroom at the mall, is one example of why this particular reader will never intentionally snort anything up her nose. Is there any substance you’ve heard or read absolute horror stories about that put it on your never-in-a-million-billion years list?
  • Only a short time after first trying Ghost, Erin feels her future crashing and burning. She blames the drug, and she blames Silas. Oh, really? Are the drug and Silas the root cause of Erin’s problems?
  • Erin can hear her mother making a toast “to our birth right” with her dinner guests, while Erin is being manhandled by spirits who may have been massacred by the very people responsible for passing on this “birth right”. Ironic much? Do you think this moment is meant as a metaphor for how some (like Erin’s mother) are ignorant of historic injustices, while others (like Erin) can see the truth of the past (like she sees the spirits) very clearly?
  • When Erin goes to meet Amara at Poe’s, there are yet more spirits vying for her attention. Are the ghosts she encounters doomed to haunt these places because they died away from home and were denied the “good death” Tobias was talking about?
  • In yet another Ghost-induced moment, Erin sees herself back in college through Silas’s eyes. She appears to be radiating pearlescent waves of black that only Silas could see. If your loved ones could see an aura coming from you, what do you suppose you’d be radiating?
  • Tobias explains that concepts like the body and blood of Christ, manna from heaven, the fruit of the tree of knowledge – all bible stories – could have actually been related to the properties of mushrooms and their effects on the mind. Honestly, that’s just wild enough that, well, why not? What do you think?
  • The whole time Erin is back in the Hopewell house, she is free to go. On some level, she knows this is a bad, bad situation. Why doesn’t she just go? Not gonna lie, I was kind of fucking mad when she stuck around while things deteriorated to the point that she was being wrapped in a tarp and stuffed into the trunk of a car.
  • All of Tobias’s “clients” in the house came from more-or-less stable, mundane existences. Is it the nature of addiction that certain highs trip something so essential that any one of us could be at risk anytime? What might be the difference between you and someone who suffers from devastating addiction?
  • When Erin made contact with her parents in an attempt to get away from the house in Hopewell, they were pretty quick to cut her off. Did their refusal to listen and help her make sense? What do you think led them to so easily deny help their daughter help?
  • In more than one scene, Erin finds herself struggling in black, choppy water under dark, grey skies. What do you suppose is happening during these episodes?
  • Many assorted characters heed the call to “get haunted” and end up strung out in the Hopewell house. Why does the Marcia character seem so incredibly pathetic? Is there anyone in Ghost Eaters that you particularly identified with?
  • The second chapter of part five is called “homewrecker”. A LOT happens in part five, but who is the homewrecker? Is it Silas? Or Tobias? Is it Erin? Is it Ghost? What about that weird butthole-faced baby in the walls?
  • Tobias (or was it Silas? 🤔) calls Erin’s life “vapid”, and says she was always so empty. Ouch, that’s gotta sting. Was Erin’s on again/off again relationship with Silas since college prolonged because of her emptiness?
  • If there was really a pill that could lower the barrier between the living and the dead, would you take it? If not a pill, what about a ritual? Would you place your fingers on that ouija board planchette if you thought it could really put you on a long-distance call to the afterlife?
  • Right after Tobias and his crew of Ghost-addicts force Erin to take a dose, and right before she burns it all down, Erin opens the front door to let in all the revenants who storm the house like Black Friday shoppers at Walmart. I did not see that coming. Did you?
AI-generated image of mushrooms growing beneath a tree-swing in front of a housing development
  • Now that you’ve finished reading Ghost Eaters by Clay McLeod Chapman, revisit the epigraphs at the beginning from Tennyson and Leviticus. How do they relate to the things Erin experienced?
  • Like it says in the epilogue, what is a ghost?

Well look at that! We’ve reached the end of another noises above book club guide. Be sure to let us know if you have any comments or suggestions for books you’d like to see in this space, and check out the blog for articles about other books, and other great horror writers!

go ahead, whistle past the graveyard

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