In Henry James’s short story, “The Friends of the Friends,” the narrator introduces two acquaintances to each other, a male and a female, because of their common experience: each has seen the ghost of a loved one. The narrator later becomes engaged to the male friend but fears that her fiancée harbors a more profound connection with her female, ghost-seeing friend. Possessed with regret but hypnotized by a sense of inevitability, she records how their love triangle meets its spectral conclusion.
James is no stranger to spooky stories, despite his reputation for dryness. His The Turn of the Screw is an iconic grown-up ghost story. Entwined with the eerie tale of two children who see the ghosts of their former governess and her lover are themes of innocence and repressed sexuality, sometimes trembling, sometimes fetid. James’s other famous novels are wry character studies, unflinchingly realistic in their portrayal of the lack of mystery in modern life. But he also wrote several lesser-known short stories about supernatural encounters. “The Friends of the Friends” is chilling not simply for its supernatural stirrings. It is frightening in the melancholy way of James’s best works: he was a master at capturing the dread of missed chances and lost time.
As in so many subtly wrought ghost stories, the reader is left wondering whether the ghosts had ever been real at all. But that’s so much more haunting than a story that clumsily offers proof.
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