Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Dark Matter, by Peter Straub

If you were forced to distill the world down into it's essence, and the goal of humanity down to it's simplest form, I think that what you would have is the struggle for good over evil.  This theme is at the heart of almost everything we do as a people-the way we treat family and friends, the way we structure our society, the way we write our laws. It's the basis for most religions.  And it is the theme of an awful lot of literature.  Including A Dark Matter, by Peter Straub.

I first discovered Straub through his collaborations with Stephen King, and I have loved his work for much the same reason-good character development, intriguing supernatural plots, both of which have something to say about the world as we know it.  While he occasionally strays away from the horror genre, his best stuff, to me, are the scary, inexplicable stories.  I was very excited to find the latest Straub in the boxes of books my mother had for me on my last visit.  I think that I may have psyched myself up a little too much!

A Dark Matter is the story of five high school friends growing up in Madison, WI in the 1960s.  Four of them fall under the spell of a "guru" named Spencer Mallon, and follow him into a field one spring night to participate in an arcane ritual designed to change the world-for better or for worse is yet to be seen.  The ritual leaves one person dead, and sends another to a mental hospital.  Forty years later, the friend who didn't go, Lee Harwell, famous author, calls all of his former friends together (including his wife), and Roshamon style they tell the story of what happened to them in that clearing.

This sounds like exactly my cup of Oolong, but for some reason I had trouble sipping it down.  The story just did not hold my attention the way his books usually do.  I grew frustrated with the slow doling out of details, and I often found myself having to go back and re-read a page because my mind had drifted to other things-never a good sign for a book.  When we finally got to the big reveal, I was a little underwhelmed.   When we finally get to the last story, the final piece of the puzzle, I was surprised to find that all of the preceding pages were leading up to the idea that without evil, you cannot have good, therefore there are evil beings in the world.  Not exactly the most profound (or original, or creatively made) statement.  I was so disappointed!  I had obviously worked myself up into such a lather of excitement about a new Peter Straub that I was probably bound to be slightly disappointed regardless, but I really think that this is just not his best work.  If you've never read Straub before, start with Ghost Story, or Koko, or Mystery, or the Hellfire Club, and read his collaborations with Stephen King, The Talisman and Black House.

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