Peter Straub Criticism - Essay

Valentine Cunningham (review date 27 February 1976)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Death Dealers," in New Statesman, Vol. 91, No. 2345, February 27, 1976, pp. 264-65.

[In the following excerpt, Cunningham praises Straub's Julia.]

Most weeks Peter Straub's Julia would be a certain pieceleader, granted 'generous space to send its spine-freezing frissons lasering down the column. This week, a bit regrettably, since quality chillers like this come the reader's way so rarely, it must look comparatively out-punched. Don't be put off: matched at its own weight it's a champ. It begins plainly enough, with an American lady, Julia Lofting, impulse-buying a house near Holland Park. But the foreboding sense of yet another American novelist abroad having his characters acquire a place, and a new sense of place, in London just because that's what he's done ('writes full time and lives in London' is often the signpost to the predictably drear), lasts only minutes, and rapidly gives way to an altogether more startling sort of foreboding.

Strange events crowd in on Julia and her new home. A blonde girl resembling her dead daughter haunts the Park doing cruel things with knives and bicycle wheels to tiny living creatures. Noises invade; tiny, ghostly hands flutter lasciviously about Julia's private parts in bed. She gets more and more bloody, gashing and grazing herself, her clothes soaking up her own blood, and that of other mutilated humans and dead animals. She begins to glimpse explanatory patterns. Her house once housed a murderous little blonde girl, stabbed to death by her mother. The murdered girl, Julia discovers, might well be her own husband's daughter. And he—or was it Julia?—stabbed their daughter to death trying to save her life by—wait for it—performing an amateur, emergency tracheotomy as she lay choking to death on a piece of meat. Julia, its power to horrify doubtless stemming from that original, grisly conceit of parental, kitchen-knife surgery, makes an extraordinarily gripping and tantalizing read. Our all too unreliable central character dies messily: is it murder? by ghost or by human? or is it suicide? Every dubious solution and ambivalent pattern is possible, for almost anything becomes believable under the novelist's stunningly Gothic manipulations.

Peter S. Prescott (review date 26 March 1979)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "All but the Clanking Chains," in Newsweek, Vol. XCIII, No. 13, March 26, 1979, p. 104.

[In the following review, Prescott provides a brief plot summary and a favorable assessment of Ghost Story.]

Surely this is the longest ghost story ever written. That alone should cause the aficionado to hoist an eyebrow, for the genre virtually demands brevity. I was equally troubled by the author's declaration that he wanted to push the elements of the ghost story "as far as they could go." That, I thought, had long since been accomplished by grandmasters from Hawthorne and Le Fanu to Blackwood and M. R. James. Groundless fears, these. With considerable technical...

(The entire section is 449 words.)

Peter Straub with Joseph Barbato (interview date 28 January 1983)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: An interview in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 223, No. 4, January 28, 1983, pp. 39-40.

[In the following interview, Straub discusses the progress of his literary career.]

First in Ghost Story and Shadowland, and now again in his new novel Floating Dragon, horror novelist Peter Straub has worked to nudge his readers—right off the edge of a cliff, he says. "I want readers to feel as if they've left the real world behind just a little bit, but are still buoyed up and confident, as if dreaming. I want them left standing in midair with a lot of peculiar visions in their heads."

In Floating Dragon, he admits, the nudge has...

(The entire section is 1443 words.)

Alan Bold (review date 11 March 1983)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Horror of Horrors," in Times Literary Supplement, March 11, 1983, p. 249.

[In the review below, Bold reviews Floating Dragon's style, which he describes as "cinematic."]

Although Peter Straub makes references to writers such as Washington Irving and Wilkie Collins, the immediate sources of his huge novel Floating Dragon are cinematic. Addicts of horror and science-fiction movies will recognize images from Alien (humans stripped to their gleaming bones), The Exorcist (graveyard stench and vomit), The Shining (torrents of blood), Zombies (decomposing creatures laying hands on the living), The Invisible Man (a key...

(The entire section is 773 words.)

Michael Small (review date 4 April 1983)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Yikes! Peter Straub's Floating Dragon Scares Suburbia," in People, Vol. 19, No. 13, April 4, 1983, pp. 102-03.

[In the following review, Small presents a favorable assessment of Floating Dragon.]

A specter haunts the suburban paradise of Hampstead, Conn., and it isn't just crabgrass. A housewife gets slashed, a corporate exec turns to liquid, children in Keds march lemminglike into the sea, which is sometimes blood-red and covered with flies. All of this couldn't make author Peter Straub happier: Such imaginative horror, in a suburb so real you can smell the lawn trimmings, has made his latest chiller, Floating Dragon, a best-seller. "The...

(The entire section is 660 words.)

William Goldstein (interview date 11 May 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Coupl'a Authors Sittin' Around Talkin'," in Publishers Weekly, May 11, 1984, pp. 253-55.

[In the following interview, Straub and Stephen King discuss their collaboration on The Talisman.]

They met in England in 1976 or 1977, at Brown's Hotel in London. Each had read the other's books, and they had corresponded a bit. "We had a drink or two and got along well enough that we thought we could sit down and have a meal," Stephen King remembers. "So we went along to Crouch End, Peter's house, my wife and I."

He stops to pinpoint the date. "I do remember this. You can find out. When we came back, Stephanie, my sister-in-law, who was staying at our...

(The entire section is 2246 words.)

Charles Leerhsen (review date 24 December 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Titans of Terror," in Newsweek, Vol. 104, No. 27, December 24, 1984, pp. 51-52.

[Below, Leerhsen favorably reviews The Talisman.]

Stephen King has given us spooky stories like Pet Sematary and The Shining and taken meetings with, trust me, Hollywood film moguls, so he's obviously a man not easily frightened. Still, not long ago the 37-year-old writer found himself feeling as creepy as, say, a kid reading Stephen King's Christine. What worried him was the impending publication of The Talisman, an epic quest yarn on which he'd collaborated with Peter Straub, the best-selling author of such spinetinglers as Ghost Story and...

(The entire section is 990 words.)

Michael Small (interview date 28 January 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Peter Straub and Stephen King Team Up for Fear," in People, Vol. 23, No. 4, January 28, 1985, pp. 50-52.

[Below, Small interviews Straub and King about their collaboration on The Talisman and possible future projects.]

For two years a dark mysterious mass lurked inside the word processors linked by phone to horror novelist Stephen King's home in Maine and spook writer Peter Straub's in Connecticut. Finally, in November, the thing emerged in the form of America's current No. 1 best-seller, The Talisman. A 644-page fantasy about a 12-year-old boy's odyssey in a netherworld filled with vicious werewolves and killer trees, The Talisman is a...

(The entire section is 665 words.)

Bernadette Bosky (essay date 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Stephen King and Peter Straub: Fear and Friendship," in Discovering Stephen King, edited by Darnell Schweitzer, Starmont House, 1985, pp. 55-76.

[In the essay below, Bosky examines the influence of Stephen King on the development of Straub's literary style.]

Friendships between writers are always interesting, and that between Stephen King and Peter Straub is both one of the more interesting and one of the more productive in the history of supernatural and horror fiction. Even in a genre whose writers have a certain sense of community, friendship may be difficult. As Peter Straub puts it, "Meetings of writers are always like the coming together of princes who...

(The entire section is 8855 words.)

Geoffrey Stokes (review date May 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Ghosts: The Many Lives of Peter Straub," in The Village Voice Literary Supplement, No. 115, May, 1993, pp. 25-26.

[In the following review, Stokes examines the thematic structure of Straub's Blue Rose Trilogy.]

Toward the end of Koko, the first novel of Peter Straub's Blue Rose trilogy, a killer renders himself effectively invisible by slipping into another man's clothes and appearing just where that man was expected to be. The implication is that most of the time we "see" what we anticipate seeing—and by extension, the greater the expectability of our daily lives, the less we actually perceive.

This notion is applicable to Straub's...

(The entire section is 3248 words.)

Frank Wilson (review date 27 June 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Return of the Blue Rose," in The New York Times, June 27, 1993, p. 24.

[In the following favorable review, Wilson provides a plot summary of The Throat.]

With The Throat, Peter Straub concludes a trilogy that began with the novel Koko and continued with Mystery. He deftly recapitulates the themes of the first two, then modulates them into that of this very impressive finale.

The police department of Millhaven, Ill., had closed the book on the Blue Rose murder case back in 1950 when a homicide detective named William Damrosch was found dead in his home of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, having left a note with the...

(The entire section is 521 words.)

Joseph Andriano (essay date 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "From Fiend to Friend, The Daemonic Feminine in Modern Gothic," in Our Ladies of Darkness, The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993, pp. 135-44.

[In the following excerpt, Andriano examines the place of Ghost Story in twentieth-century Gothic fiction.]

The male hysterical reaction to fiends in women's garments continues well into the twentieth century, during which the Gothic mode has flourished in the ghost story and the weird tale. Many of these texts display vivid anima signs. Oliver Onions's "Beckoning Fair One" (1911) is a famous example: a novelist's fictional heroine haunts him as a ghost and rivals the woman whom he should be loving; equally...

(The entire section is 1323 words.)

Adam Meyer (interview date Summer 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Impure Consciousness," in The Armchair Detective, Vol. 27, No. 3, Summer, 1994, pp. 264-71.

[In the following interview, Straub discusses the creative process and the evolution of his fiction.]

Peter Straub lives as one would expect a writer to live: surrounded by books. As we ascend to his office on the top floor of his Manhattan brownstone, we pass shelves at every landing, shelves piled and crammed and jammed with volumes; if there is any organization based on size or subject, it eludes me. On the walls are posters from the movie adaptations which have been made from Straub's work, Ghost Story and The Haunting of Julia (based on his more...

(The entire section is 5002 words.)

Don Ringnalda (essay date 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Civilian Perspectives in Peter Straub's Koko," in Fighting and Writing the Vietnam War, University Press of Mississippi, 1994, pp. 115-35.

[In the following essay, Ringnalda addresses the issue of "civilians" writing about the Vietnam combat experience.]

Up to this point we've looked at three writers who spent a year "in country." All three experienced combat—even the civilian "journalist" Herr. Peter Straub did not. So what's he doing in a book called Fighting and Writing? How can a civilian possibly write about war? How dare he claim that special privilege? To this day, many veterans of the Vietnam War share the attitude that if you weren't...

(The entire section is 8116 words.)

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt (review date 1 February 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Enough Fearful Twists for Everyone," in The New York Times, February 1, 1996, p. C17.

[In a mixed review of The Hellfire Club, Lehmann-Haupt praises the reach of the novel, but feels that the story occasionally gets away from the author.]

In Peter Straub's latest horror novel, The Hellfire Club, Nora Chancel, the story's heroine, suffers in a hellfire of masculine patronisation. Like her namesake in Ibsen's play A Doll's House, Nora is treated by the men around her as an object of little consequence.

Her husband, Davey, cheats on her with other women and even neglects her for his obsession with Hugo Driver's "Night...

(The entire section is 969 words.)

Tom De Haven (review date 9 February 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Magical Mystery Tour," in Entertainment Weekly, February 9, 1996, pp. 46-47.

[Below, De Haven provides a plot summary and favorable review of The Hellfire Club.]

Peter Straub's novels (Ghost Story, Koko, The Throat, If You Could See Me Now) feel terrifyingly plausible till they're over; then they seem preposterous. Nobody else working the horror-and-suspense field—not even Stephen King—concocts anything remotely resembling the audacious, labyrinthine plots that Straub serves up year after year. He's puzzle maker as much as he is a storyteller, and if his narratives are often as unwieldy, baroque, and zany as a Rube Goldberg contraption, they're also...

(The entire section is 613 words.)

Colin Harrison (review date 25 February 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Murderer's Row," in The New York Times Book Review, February 25, 1996, p. 9.

[In the following excerpt, Harrison compares The Hellfire Club to Dean Koontz's Intensity.]

Pity the serial killer. He is now a cliché—killed this, slaughtered that. After The Collector, by John Fowles, Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris, and The Alienist, by Caleb Carr—not to mention true-crime books about David (Son of Sam) Berkowitz, Ted Bundy and others—it is no longer sufficient for a serial killer to have clean fingernails and a filthy mind, to lick his lips as the knife flashes or to appear to be only a pleasant fellow dreamily wandering...

(The entire section is 767 words.)

Bernadette Lynn Bosky (essay date 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Mirror and Labyrinth: The Fiction of Peter Straub," in A Dark Night's Dreaming, edited by Tony Magistrate and Michael A. Morrison, University of South Carolina Press, 1996, pp. 68-83.

[In the following essay, Bosky examines Straub's body of work.]

Peter Straub's fiction is notable for its combination of unity and variety: the continuing exploration of specialized themes and a characteristic tone within works that cover a range of settings, genres, and styles. While this is not necessarily unusual—in fact, it characterizes most good artists in any field—it may be less common than it should be among writers of the modern American Gothic, especially due to...

(The entire section is 5920 words.)