three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
46-May-June-2010
By: 
Peter Straub
user_rating: 
0

A-A Dark MatterBest-selling horror writer Peter Straub is the author of Ghost Story, Koko, and Floating Dragon.

The Story: Lee Hartwell, a successful novelist, faces a serious case of writer's block. To get over it, he decides to write a nonfiction piece about an incident from his youth in Madison, Wisconsin. Several of Lee's friends were led into a field to share in a ritual with a 1960s guru-cum-conman. Forty years later, no one has ever talked about what happened that night, but it left one boy dead, his body hideously mangled, and another delusional. The effects on the others have been more subtle: Lee's wife, for instance, gradually went blind. Lee resolves to find out what really happened that night, but through his "interviews" with the various victims, we discover that the truth is far from clear.
Doubleday. 397 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9780385516389

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"[Straub] is a master at blurring the supernatural, the real-world-scary and the monsters in your psyche. ... [This creepy tale unfolds in Rashomon-like fashion via ‘interviews' with those present when a charismatic guru led a group of young students into a dark field in Madison, Wis., one very dark night." Laura DeMarco

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"In a way, A Dark Matter reads like a gift for longtime readers who have been longing for Straub's return to all-out horror. But the writer does it on his terms, beautifully blending monsters and demons and indescribable evil into a melancholy novel shaped and crafted as carefully as literature, not pulp entertainment." Rene Rodriguez

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"Although sections of each character's retelling felt as if I was caught in a bad acid trip ... the characters and their back stories are fascinating and fully realized. ... A Dark Matter is ambitious in its scope and challenging in its telling." Carole E. Barrowman

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Little about A Dark Matter is as it first appears, and Straub does his usual stellar job of orchestrating the various narrative voices with assurance and wit. ... If the book has a flaw, it's that the plot loses some of its urgency as it heads into its final chapters because the reader may sense that the level of jeopardy has subsided too far." Michael Berry

Onion AV Club 2 of 5 Stars
"[Dark Matter's] biggest failing is that it spends 400 pages investigating a single event without ever making that event matter. ... [E]ven with its eerie visions and moments of existential clarity, there really isn't enough here to make up for all the effort it takes to put the pieces together." Zack Handlen

Washington Post 2 of 5 Stars
"The central story seems too fright-fest-boilerplate to be worthy of such extended rumination. ... By the end of A Dark Matter, it hardly matters anymore whether the wan mystery of What Happened in the Meadow That Night has been solved." Maureen Corrigan

Critical Summary

Six book critics venture into a new novel by a best-selling horror writer. The writer is said to have magical abilities to blend horror conventions with literary fiction to keep the pages turning. He is even said to have touched Stephen King! Four of the critics come away convinced that a transcendent supernatural event has occurred, which may have something to do with the nature of evil. But two are horribly scarred by the event--unbearably bored, convinced they have just read a rejected script from Lost. Whose version of events is true? We may never know. All critics agree on is that the only possible way to describe such a plot structure is to reference Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon--so readers may just have to investigate for themselves.