Peter (Francis) Straub Barbara Matthews - Essay

Barbara Matthews

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

New Englander Peter Straub, like New Englander Stephen King, is capable of writing stark cold horror—the kind worshippers of the genre love to spirit away and read quickly, inhaling fright and holding it in their lungs until it becomes brittle enough to shatter if so much as a telephone rings. Straub's last novel, Ghost Story, was a classic horror tale so reminiscent of King's 'Salem's Lot that it seemed almost to have been written by the master himself. With Shadow Land Straub tries to go one better, forsaking the classic elements of horror for a convoluted, Magus-like nothing-is-quite-what-it-seems form of trickery complete with images piled so high and so haphazardly that finding a meaning is like trying to find your coat on a bed at a party….

Straub does manage a scare occasionally…. But to hold a reader enthralled, a book about a magician should be magical. Straub's imagery—"A man with a face like a run-over dog and a woman whose head was a charred stump…."—is anything but. "At the beginning it was even fun in a way. I kept trying to figure out what it was all about," says Tom in summation. No one could blame the reader who simply gave up.

Barbara Matthews, "Much Less Here than Meets the Eye," in Maclean's Magazine (© 1981 by Maclean's Magazine; reprinted by permission), Vol. 94, No. 1, January 12, 1981, p. 44.