No one tells a story like Peter Straub. He dazzles with the complexity of his plots. He delights with the sophistication and eloquence of his prose. He startles you into laughter in the face of events so dark you begin to question your own moral compass. Then he reduces you to jelly by spinning a tale so terrifying-and surprising-you wind up sleeping with the lights on.
With Magic Terror, the bestselling author of Ghost Story and The Talisman (with Stephen King) has given us one of the most imaginatively unsettling collections in years. The terrain of these extraordinary stories is marked by brutality, heart-break, despair, wonder, and an unexpected humor that allows empathy to blossom within the most unlikely contexts.
"Bunny Is Good Bread" takes us into the mind of a small boy trapped in grotesque circumstances to portray the creation of a serial killer in a manner that compels pity, sorrow, comprehension, and grief-as well as judgment. "Hunger, an Introduction," narrated by the ghost of a pompous, self-pitying murderer, evokes a profoundly beautiful vision of earthly life, one appreciated far more by the dead than the living. The award-winning novella "Mr. Clubb and Mr. Cuff," a masterpiece of black comedy, draws upon Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener" to create a revenge tale in which torture is a moral art and the revenger undergoes a transforming, albeit painful, education.
In the words of Mrs. Asch, the visionary narrator of "Ashputtle," "The main feature of adventure is that it goes forward into unknown country." Straub's devotees will be entranced by what their fearless guide has in store for them. Those as yet uninitiated are in for a harrowing literary journey. Enjoy the ride.
The war-numbed soldier who asks, "Just suppose...,that you were forced to confront extreme experience directly, without any mediation?" speaks for all of the spiritually traumatized souls who navigate the harrowingly rendered hells of these seven tales of suspense and horror. Straub (Mr. X) effortlessly plumbs the hearts and minds of a range of well-developed characters--including a reflective assassin for hire, a five-year-old victim of domestic violence, an aging black jazz musician and a pompous Wall Street financial adviser--to locate epiphanic moments when their lives careened "out of the ordinary" and into the path of deforming private tragedy. In "Ashputtle," an implied murderess blames her crimes on an emotionally deprived childhood in which she imagines herself a modern Cinderella victimized by her cruel stepsisters. "Bunny Is Good Bread," an unnerving portrait of the psychopath as a young boy, follows young Fee Bandolier as he maladjusts to an unbearably gothic home situation in which his father has beaten his mother into a coma. "Porkpie Hat" is related as an alcoholic saxophonist's confession of a childhood brush with witchcraft, murder and miscegenation that continues to inform his blues-haunted music. In several of the tales--most notably "The Haunted Village," which links to the novel Koko (1988) and stories from his previous collection, Houses Without Doors (1990)--Straub skillfully evokes the supernatural to suggest the dislocating effect of intense psychological upset. Mixing stark realism with black comedy, and reverberating with echoes of Conrad, Melville and the Brothers Grimm, these excursions to the dark side of life set a high standard for the literature of contemporary magic terror.