Peter (Francis) Straub Jonathan Keates - Essay

Jonathan Keates

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Wild-eyed backwoods weirdness indeed dominates If You Could See Me Now. Peter Straub's third novel initially deceives by the familiarity of its opening formula: the bourgeois narrator is pitched against a conspiracy of silence among inhabitants of a farming community rocked by a sequence of killings. Apple-pie cosiness on every level, however, is quickly eroded. Miles Teagarden, steeped in useless campus apprehensions, is tossed with dour brutality round a circle of folk whose cult of the normal is interestingly offset by a tendency to maul and harry their wretchedly obtuse victim at every turn. His cousin Alison's childhood promise to 'come after' him, made minutes before her murder, reaches sinister fulfilment when Miles's Eng. Lit. sophistications crumble against a barrage of impenetrable surliness and suspicion, and the valley reverberates with death.

Straub is good at slick manipulation of pace, punctuating the story with chunks of police statement (whose unlettered authenticity doesn't come without a rueful laugh or two), and he has an equally nifty way with rustic grotesques. In a place where everyone is either broodily insane or explicitly nasty, Miles preserves a paradoxical equanimity, as Alison's spooking reaches its height. Crisp, classy buggaboo, this, full of neatly managed understatements and chillingly calculated surprises.

Jonathan Keates, "Furtively Twitching," in New Statesman (© 1977 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 93, No. 2414, June 24, 1977, p. 863.∗