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Do you believe in ghosts?

Jeanette Winterson wants to know in the introduction to "Night Side of the River," her collection of ghost stories. Quite a few of us do, it appears, and she is fascinated by our fascination in our "ghostly selves," mostly because the evolution of belief should have produced a far different result: "As the world has become more secular, belief in the supernatural should have gone the way of leaving out gifts for elves and fairies. … Yet ghost festivals are popular all over the world."

As she ponders the spirit world, Winterson roams across cultures, from Chinese gui ghosts to the battle-ghosts of German, Icelandic and Scandinavian folklore. She also explores religions, different eras, the work of Charles Dickens, M.R. James and Shirley Jackson, and ends the introduction with thoughts on what "ghost" even means anymore as artificial intelligence develops and possibly becomes sentient (a preoccupation Winterson explores in her 2019 novel "Frankissstein," a retelling of sorts of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," with Shelley as a character).

So, do you believe in ghosts?

Winterson isn't out to convince anybody, but she does include her own experiences with the supernatural ("I can't explain them. But I can't explain them away, either"), interpolating them between story sections: Devices, Places, People and Visitations. The three Devices stories read like episodes of the Netflix series "Black Mirror," steeped as they are in technology: In "App-Arition," a woman receives texts from her recently deceased husband; "The Old House at Home" mixes gothic elements and the metaverse; and the aptly titled "Ghost in the Machine" goes for a bit of humor as another recent widow comes to terms with her spouse's death by visiting a Sims-like alternate reality.

Unsurprisingly, grief and loss resonate throughout the rest of the ghost stories, which are mostly the traditional variety. Of those, "The Spare Room" is an especially creepy tale, in which a woman rents a London apartment in a 1780s Georgian house. Not long after she moves in, she awakens to a metallic clicking that she can't quite identify. It's the sound of a cigarette lighter, she realizes. She catches a whiff of butane and then cigarette smoke. Definitely not how you want to be roused in the middle of the night, alone. It just gets creepier from there.

On my scare-o-meter, the highest level of which is being too frightened to reach around a door frame to flip on a light switch for fear of being grabbed and dragged to hell or something equally horrific, "Night Side of the River" doesn't quite cut it, but that's a high bar, to be sure. Instead, Winterson's ghost stories do something much worse/better: They will haunt you.

Maren Longbella is a Star Tribune copy editor.

Night Side of the River

By: Jeanette Winterson.

Publisher: Grove Press, 320 pages, $27.