The Ghost Network is a mystery novel at least once, but up to three times over. At the center is pop superstar Molly Metropolis, who disappears without a trace hours before a sold-out performance at the United Center. Following her disappearance, three underemployed Chicago hipster intellectuals—Gina, Molly’s personal assistant; Nick, one of Molly’s closest friends; and Caitlin, an aspiring music journalist they team up with—spend months combing through the journals and projects Molly left behind trying to discover where she went, until one night Caitlin disappears as well. The Ghost Network is ostensibly a manuscript about the two disappearances written by fictional journalist Cyrus Archer, who passed on his work to “Catie Disabato,” who edited and published the manuscript with her own footnotes.
Nothing gets simpler from there. Molly Metropolis is a pop star in the vein of Beyonce and Katy Perry, whose public persona is “part-Britney coquettishness, combined with what Molly called a ‘dirty Outrun Electro synthesizers’ aesthetic, combined with Freddie Mercury, combined with Holly Golightly.” In her spare time, she is a self-educated expert on a 1960s political group called the Situationists who wanted to rebuild cities without any boundaries between work and play.
Inspired by the Situationists, Molly and Nick were working together in a secret underground office they shared on Armitage to compile the Ghost Network, “a gigantic map which would catalogue every single L train line ever built in Chicago and combine them with every single L train line not built—that is, every train line proposed but never incorporated into the system,” which may hold the key to her disappearance.
Much like Molly’s map, the novel is structured as several independent stories grafted on top of one another, alternately operating together in harmony or feeling like chaos. Molly’s story is one of ambition, talent, and meticulously crafted spectacle, a perceptive look at celebrity and personal branding in the digital age. Gina, Nick, and Caitlin’s story is a spunky tale of unlikely friends who spend as much time watching YouTube and drunkenly updating their Tumblrs as they do doggedly chasing clues. At other times Disabato leaves the reader wondering about Cyrus Archer and why he didn’t finish his book, or offers a small treatise on anarchy and architectural theory, or provides an action-packed escape scene.
These disparate elements are linked together with about the same logic as a music video, where you go along with the far-fetched idea that a hidden staircase leads to a secret world because everything is happening so fast and the music is great and you’re having too much fun. The Ghost Network, like a great pop song, is an intricate system and a lavish spectacle at the same time. v