This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.
Peter Straub’s A Dark Matter is clearly a work which is important to him; it’s so important, he’s published it twice. The commonly-available edition – which is what I am reviewing here, is a trimmed-down version of a significantly longer early draft, The Skylark, which was published in a limited edition at around the same time as A Dark Matter hit the market. On top of that, he’s also released A Special Place – The Heart of A Dark Matter, a portion of the material excised from The Skylark reshaped into a standalone novella. Clearly, Straub and his publishers think that A Dark Matter/The Skylark is a really big deal, and the judges of the Bram Stoker Award also thought so, giving A Dark Matter their 2010 award for best novel.
I’m not convinced. It’s not that I’m against literary fiction infused with sinister supernatural elements of the type that A Dark Matter aspires to being – hell, if I was, my reviews of The Ceremonies, My Work Is Not Yet Done, and all those Ramsey Campbell books would have been very, very different. And in fact, I think Straub has succeeded at producing literary horror in the past, and I’ve championed Ghost Story and Shadowland on here before. It’s just that A Dark Matter isn’t that good – not as a horror novel, not as an allegorical novel using occult symbolism to illuminate the characters’ inner lives, not as a literary slice-of-life novel, not as a modern-day fantasy, not as any of the different things it tries to be over the course of over four hundred pages. It has a hell of a beginning, and that kept me going for most of it, but it’s hard to deny that it just completely goes to pieces in the last third or so. The last hundred pages of the book more or less destroy anything Straub was trying to accomplish with it.