Magic Terror

Magic Terror, a collection of seven short stories by Peter Straub, is well-written, well-crafted, interesting, often darkly funny, and frightening… and I didn’t like it at all.

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.

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1 Response to Magic Terror

  1. Teresa says:

    I’m gradually getting over my need to finish everything I start. I did give up on The World Without Us about 1/3 of the way through. I rather like your 50 pages or 10% guideline–The Lost Dog would have just squeaked by that way. Actually, though, I choose what to read in much the same way you do, and I rarely get anything awful that way.

    One of these days I’m going to read Ghost Story. I got a copy from Bookmooch that had such a strong cigarette smell I had to get rid of it, and I keep forgetting to get another copy.

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