Reviewed by Elaine Lamkin
Written by Peter Straub
Published by Doubleday
From Publishers Weekly : “In this tour de force from bestseller Straub (In the Night Room), four high school friends in 1966 Madison, Wisconsin — Howard [Hootie] Bly, Donald [Dilly] Olson, Jason [Boats] Boatman, and Lee [The Eel] Truax—fall under the spell of charismatic wandering guru, Spencer Mallon. During an occult ceremony in which Mallon attempts to break through to a higher reality, something goes horribly awry leaving one participant dead. Decades later, Lee’s writer husband interviews the quartet to find out what happened. In Roshomon-like fashion, each relates a slightly different account of the trauma they experienced. Straub masterfully shows how the disappointments, downturns, and failed promise of the four friends’ lives may have stemmed from this youthful experience, and suggests, by extension, that the malignant evil they helped unleash into the world has tainted all hope ever since. Brilliant in its orchestration and provocative in its speculations, this novel ranks as one of the finest tales of modern horror.”
Publishers Weekly got this book right. Opening in present day Chicago, the husband of one of the then-teenage acolytes who followed the, to me, almost Manson-like manipulator, Spencer Mallon, is reminded by a homeless man he meets in a bakery of one of the other victims of what happened decades before, when something unspeakable happened in an agronomy meadow in Wisconsin, leaving only a gruesomely dismembered body and shattered psyches. The four friends who went to the meadow that day: Hootie Bly, Dilly Olson, Boats Boatman and The Eel Truax, were all scarred in one way or another by what happened and the trauma has followed them ito their adult lives. One ends up in a mental institution, another loses their eyesight, etc.
Reminiscent of Donna Tartt’s A Secret History, Straub has each of the former high-schoolers relate their remembrance to The Eel’s husband, writer Lee Harwell, of that fateful day, when they, along with their guru, Spencer Mallon, his protegé, the beautiful Meredith Bright and two fraternity members, the sinister Keith Hayward and his roommate, Brett Milstrap, venture to the meadow to perform a secret ritual that will hopefully open a doorway to…something. And it does. With horrifying results that resonate to the present day.
I have been a Peter Straub fan since I read Ghost Story, and while I enjoyed his Tim Underhill novels (Koko, In the Night Room, The Throat, etc.), I was thrilled to see him return, in excellent form, to the horror genre with which he is so adept. And if you have not read any Peter Straub, you REALLY need to check out Ghost Story, the two novels (to date) that he has co-written with Stephen King — The Talisman and The Black House, as well as some of his more recent work including the Stoker Award-winning Lost Boy Lost Girl.
A Dark Matter will be published February 9th.
4 out of 5
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