It’s been quite a while since I read a book I really didn’t like. For one thing, unlike Teresa, I feel no obligation to finish books. I consider that life is too short to read bad books; if it’s not giving back more than I’m putting in by, say, ten percent of the book or 50 pages, whichever is greater, I move on. In addition, I usually stick to books I’ve read reviews of, or had recommendations of from people whose taste I trust, or that are from authors I’ve liked in the past. Safe, right?
Well, not always. I have loved Peter Straub’s novels. His profoundly scary Julia is a favorite of mine, along with Ghost Story, and his collaborations with Stephen King are seamlessly successful. And I can’t criticize these stories for their writing. They’re evocative and gripping.
But look at the title: Magic Terror. Doesn’t that suggest the supernatural to you? There’s almost nothing supernatural in these stories; they’re about terror, all right, but it’s the terror of human cruelty almost beyond belief. There are ghosts, but the ghosts are the product of minds pushed beyond endurance. And all this cruelty — or almost all of it, five out of seven stories, six at at a stretch — happens to children. That was what pushed me into real dislike for the book. In these stories, children are neglected, emotionally and physically abused, tortured, molested, murdered. It left me sickened. I read on, hoping for some kind of redemption or rescue, but this is horror: no rescue in sight.
So I find myself in an odd position. I can’t recommend these stories, even though they were good. They crossed a line for me. Try Peter Straub, by all means, but not this one.