I’m not a great fan of Halloween, generally. I live in an early 20th century eight-plex that makes it pretty darn hard to pass out candy and “oooo” and “ahhh” at the little tykes in costume. I’m not a party person, either. Plus, I’m not easily spooked. I prefer those holidays where family and friends gather. Halloween is just sort of… meh.
I do try to get in the mood though by renting a scary movie or reading a horror novel. So when I came across a discounted copy of Peter Straub’s A Dark Matter at a book store in September, I thought: “Oh! This will be a good book to read around Halloween!”
So I start it mid-October, and it takes me until the week of Thanksgiving to finish it! Honestly, the horror in this book was just getting through it.
I had never read a Straub novel, but this one appeared to have everything going for it, including praise from the likes of Stephen King, Michael Chabon and Booklist. And the author is a bestseller and an award-winner to boot!
In the novel, a 60-something writer in the present is moved to finally find out what really happened in a Madison, WI field in the 1960s. His wife and three of his friends were present at the event, where one person was slaughtered and another simply disappeared. The young high schoolers were seduced by a guru passing through town at the time—a guru who needed their help in lifting the veil from our perceived reality to discover what really lies underneath. A ceremony in the field was an attempt to discover the greater spiritual truth about our world.
That’s pretty much it. Except that at the beginning of the book, we already know the dead guy is dead, the vanished guy is gone, and the other people in the field are still alive. There. Is. Absolutely. No. Suspense. In. This. Book.
So why did I keep reading it? Well, to find out what happens, of course! I mean, there is a mystery. It’s not particularly interesting, but the thing about mysteries is you want to find out. And the thing about horror—unless just the thought of a monster face gives you the willies—is that it is successful or not based on the amount of suspense an author can make the reader feel.
Oh, there’s a sort-of-interesting side story about a serial killer, and a sort-of-interesting final revelation where a demon teaches us why we need evil in the world, but sort-of-interesting is the last thing you need a horror story to be. You want it to be a page turner. You want it to spark a chill or a shiver. You want it to make you feel alive. This book fails at all three.
Any Peter Straub fans out there? Tell me what you think about this author. He certainly has a way with words, but I sure hope he has some better stories than this one on the shelf.
And while we’re at it, anybody have suggestions of really good horror novels?