A Dark Matter
416 pp. Doubleday. $26.95
Pub. Date: 2/9/2010
Reviewed by Paul Stotts
Award-winning horror author Peter Straub examines the metaphysical nature of evil in his uncompromising and genre-transcending novel, A Dark Matter.
The year is 1966 and charismatic guru Spencer Mallon has converted a small group of teenagers into devoted followers. One night, the group performs a secret ritual that goes terribly wrong, resulting in an inexplicable and mind-shattering terror and one member brutally dismembered.
Decades later, Lee Harwell decides to interview members of the group, many of them Lee’s old high school friends, about that fateful night. Each provides their own unique perspective about the day’s events including someone very close to Lee—his wife.
Intelligently written, provocative and philosophical, A Dark Matter speculates on profound issues like the nature of evil, destiny, narrative and love; each character’s unique perspective of the fateful event acting like the Socratic Method, revealing the truth piece by piece. But this is not truth that is uncovered rationally.
A Dark Matter embraces a more postmodern deconstructionist stance, doubtful of reason as the key to enlightenment on these thorny issues, doubtful of reason as an explaining force. Some ideas just cannot be explained rationally, or as Straub points out, some ideas like the duality of evil have been misunderstood by taking a rational approach to them.
The characterization in the novel is highly clinical and introspective, making the characters often feel sterile and like intellectual constructs. Personalities suffer, seemingly not fully realized, so becoming engaged with the characters is difficult.
Less a horror novel and more of a psychological literary examination, A Dark Matter is intensely speculative and intellectually rewarding. An undeniably fine read from a literary master at the top of his game.
Final Grade: 80 out of 100