Sunday, March 7, 2010

Peter Straub's A DARK MATTER

New Peter Straub novel, a long tale narrated from multiple unreliable points of view which describes, with much stopping and starting and chronological back-and-forth, an act of ritual magic carried out by a group of university kids and a slightly older guru-figure in the late 1960s, its repercussions on their later lives, and, as with all of Straub's novels, the intrusion of the supernatural into the clearly-delineated present day. A contemporary riff on Arthur Machen's 1894 novella "The Great God Pan," one of the creepiest and most deeply ambiguous horror stories ever written, echoes of which crop up in M. John Harrison's excellent, but now sadly out-of-print novel The Course Of The Heart, and in frequent Straub collaborator Stephen King's recent novella "N." (collected in Just After Sunset).

Spurred by A Dark Matter's wonky potboiler plot, gorgeously crafted sentences, and genuine air of supernatural unease, I'm currently rereading his 1999 Lovecraft pastiche, Mr X., which was one of the first books I ever ordered new for the shop, which attracted exactly zero attention and no sales upon its release on our shelves. We still have maybe half a dozen copies of this complexly plotted doppelganger tale in the back room, which turns out to be a very enjoyable read: a tale of a young man, his "evil shadow," and their time-travelling psychopathic killer father, the "Mr. X" of the book's title, who imagines himself the servant of H.P. Lovecraft's Great Old Ones, and communicates in a kind of pidgin Lovecraftese (Exclamation marks! Deeply purple prose!) that's as dead-on its target as Don DeLillo's Lenny Bruce riffs in Underworld. Funny, scary, and suspenseful in turn, Mr. X is that rarest of creatures, a truly great genre novel.

(Recent short interview with Straub here, plus some pictures of his writing desk and the manuscript of A Dark Matter)

(New Straub-edited Library of America volume of American weird, uncanny & fantastic tales, which we should have in early next week)