Interior Darkness

interior darknessI haven’t read any Peter Straub for a long time. His Magic Terror left me cold, and when I followed that too closely by Houses Without Doors, I gave up on him altogether (but not without a loud complaint.) Still, I’ve read things by Straub I liked very much — Julia is a terrific horror novel — and after eight years, I thought he and I might come to terms. When I saw his recent collection of stories, Interior Darkness, on the library shelf, I tossed it in the bag.

I’ve said this before, but — if you bought a bag of apples, and only a quarter of them were any good, you’d take the bag back to the store. If you bought a lawn mower, and it only cut the grass a quarter of the time (or worse, only cut a quarter of your blades of grass), you’d think something was very wrong with your lawn mower. But stories are not like apples or lawn mowers. I’ll slog through dull stories and silly stories and disgusting stories in order to get to just… one story that really blows my mind. The rest can be dreck for all I care (though I will certainly take as many wonderful stories as I can get!)

In this case, out of the sixteen stories in Interior Darkness, there was one that was interesting because of its form (“A Short Guide to the City”), one that was interesting because it was so, so hallucinatory and weird — I’m still not exactly sure what happened in it, but I am certain it was deeply unpleasant (“The Ballad of Ballard and Sandrine”), and one that was actually pretty good (“Little Red’s Tango”). In this last one, Straub allows his obsession with the torment of small children and the mockery of fat people to die away, and his love for jazz comes through. The entire story shines with it. It’s the one story that, although it is suffused with something supernatural (or at least odd) there is always the sense that we are safe; jazz will save us, because jazz is love.

The rest of the stories are negligible. Dull, often, or confusing, or quite extraordinarily repetitive. They are also, mostly, not traditional horror: they are, as the title of the book suggests, interior darkness: extreme cruelty, torture, the molestation of children, madness (and not in a good, give-you-chills way.) I won’t be reading Straub again. But I’m glad I read “Little Red’s Tango”. It was a decent farewell.

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4 Responses to Interior Darkness

  1. Jeanne says:

    I saw him read one of his stories about children at a SF conference in March. He was a good reader, and it made the story better.

    • Jenny says:

      I think what bothers me is not that he writes about children in peril per se (about half of Stephen King’s stories are about children in peril, and I still like King.) It’s that almost *all* of his stories are about children in peril, and after a while, it starts feeling like a one-trick pony. This collection, since it was drawn from several different books, had a bit more variety, but ugh. It’s all emotional and sexual and physical abuse, bullying, terrible parents, torture, and on and on. Even his novel Julia (which I loved) is about a child. Yikes.

      But good readers can do magic, I agree. When I read a lot of audiobooks, I used to follow good narrators, not titles I was particularly interested in.

  2. Christy says:

    It’s funny how one good book by an author can keep a reader coming back to see if any of the author’s backlist and new works has the same magic. I kept trying with Steward O’Nan after really liking A Prayer for the Dying. There were a couple more okay books I read by him, but after several times of starting and abandoning his later books, I realized that largely, his writing wasn’t for me.

    • Jenny says:

      Isn’t that true? I don’t know why that is — I think it really is that magic. I’ve tried several of John Irving’s books that haven’t been half as good as the ones I’ve loved best, and now I think I’m burned.

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