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on July 30, 2011
Some forty years ago, Lee Halwell's best friends, including his then girlfriend, also named Lee but nicknamed The Eel, joined up with a self-proclaimed spiritualist named Spencer Mallon. Mallon is the type of guru that was as common in the sixties as bad acid, but the trip upon which he takes his small band of acolytes is anything but common. While Halwell remained home, convinced that Mallon is a fraud, The Eel and his friends met with Mallon at a local meadow where they performed an arcane rite of vague and dubious origin. One of them was killed, one of them was driven insane, and another disappeared.
Today, Halwell is a successful author and has decided it's about time he find out exactly what happened in that meadow all those years ago. What follows is a series of tellings and retellings of the same story viewed and described from varying perspectives.
I absolutely love stories of this sort, in which a mystery is introduced and the investigator is required to venture deep into the past to solve said mystery. It is this narrative structure, among other things, that ensured my enjoyment of Elizabeth Kostova's excellent The Swan Thieves, it's what keeps me coming back to Jonathan Kellerman's Alex Delaware series of novels, and it was what drew me to Straub's A Dark Matter.
Straub, though, takes it a step further, adding a dash of Rashomon to his narrative, and even a touch of Faulkneresque Sound and Fury--but signifying plenty. And though A Dark Matter draws from these sources, and even from the author's own Shadowlands, it is never derivative. In Fact, Straub manages to break new ground, taking risks and having a blast with the English language while maintaining an accessible tone and, as a writer, remaining largely invisible, always allowing the story and its narrator to occupy the spotlight.
Straub is the kind of writer, and A Dark Matter the kind of novel, that fills the reader in me with a deep sense of wonder and joy, just as the writer in me is humbled, even depressed, knowing that he could write a few million words and never produce anything as genuinely thrilling, engaging and satisfying as this. But hell, that's fine. I'm not sure my bookshelf--or the publishing industry--could handle more than one Peter Straub.