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Book Review: A Dark Matter by Peter Straub


A Dark Matter by Peter Straub -- beward the silver-haired gurus!

A Dark Matter by Peter Straub is my favorite of his most recent three or four (how’s that for a vague rave review?). I first encountered Straub in the grand old bookmobile in Spring Creek, Nevada. I was in fourth grade. I grabbed copies of Ghost Story, Floating Dragon, and Shadowlands.

They were a bit too difficult back then, but I was able to understand enough to know that I would follow Peter Straub throughout his career. It’s been a good choice.

So, on to A Dark Matter.

It’s gotten some very harsh reviews on Amazon. I have to confess: I’m somewhat addicted to one star reviews over there. They’re often so shrill and crazy that I get a huge kick out of them.

For Dark Matter, much of the criticism involves Straub’s “gimmick” of telling the same story a few different times in one book. Just to be lazy, I suppose.

We’re all just giving our opinions, of course, but I don’t think that criticism is valid.

The story involves a writer named Lee Hayward. Lee is the link between several old friends who participated in some bizarre, occult event in a meadow. They were following a super-guru named Spencer Mallon. Mallon was both my favorite and least favorite character in the book. Whatever happened in the meadow lead to one of the group being murdered most horribly.

One of the others went crazy and has been in a home for the last few decades, capable of communicating only through lines from books, of which he has memorized a whole pile.

Another ran afoul of the law and went to prison. Another married a Senator and is a cold and manipulative monster. Not least, one of them married Lee, but has never been able to tell him what happened that night.

So we have sections of the book where Lee Hayward is narrating whatever is happening to him at the present as the gang comes back into his life one by one.

Then we have each character giving their take on what happened that night. So yes, they all retell the same story in a way, but they each saw something very different that night in the meadow.

They each felt differently about the events leading up to it. It’s not like Straub copied and pasted the same story into the book four times and suddenly one short story had turned into a 300+ page book.

Dark Matter does not have a clear resolution. That’s something that will frustrate people, and I sympathize. But I also think it makes it more interesting. It makes me want to discuss it with other people and see what they thought certain things might have meant.

Is it one of the best horror novels ever? Who knows? Who cares? I had fun reading it, that’s what I can say.

If you’ve ever read and enjoyed Straub, I think you ought to give this one a chance. If you haven’t, I would recommend starting out with Koko. It is my personal favorite novel by Peter Straub and it has some truly frightening stuff in it. I think it’s a great representation of what he does best.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Casey (North and Clark) October 13, 2011, 8:06 pm

    Never read anything by Straub, but that sounds intriguing.

    Do you have any perspective on this book burning story: http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2011/10/12/141265066/hard-choices-do-libraries-really-destroy-books

  • Spencer October 14, 2011, 8:33 am

    Josh, I read both this and the referenced “Cracked” article. This probably merits its own post, but I too would like to hear the World’s Strongest Librarian’s perspective.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 14, 2011, 9:29 am

      our library has two enormous book sales every year where the shelves get picked clean. I’m not sure if we’d wind up destroying books or not if they didn’t sell. A good question and a very interesting article. I just don’t want anyone destroying my Kindle.

  • Spencer October 14, 2011, 8:47 am

    Also, I am with you on the harsh reviews; sometimes they can be their own delight. Some of the books I have recently read and reviewed favorably have been lambasted by other begrudging “one star” amateur internet critics. For example, the reviews for -Those Across the River- (which you recently posted on this site) were mostly positive, but one critic went way out of her way to find misogyny and racism where there were none. And -Record Collecting for Girls- on dunceacademy has some serious haters. Which is funny, because the book itself talks about music snobs, purists, people who take themselves WAY too seriously. The critics are exactly who she is talking about. Irony is lost on some people.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 14, 2011, 9:30 am

      I’m about 25% of the way through Those Across the River now. That reviewer is lame.

      Have you read High Fidelity?

  • Spencer October 14, 2011, 9:55 am

    Not yet. Is it good?

    • Josh Hanagarne October 14, 2011, 9:57 am

      It’s great, and you’d love it if you like music writing.