Sunday, September 11, 2022
THE DEATH OF PETER STRAUB
Peter Straub is one of my favorite authors. I was very sad to hear of his passing earlier last week. I grew up reading horror fiction, and without getting hooked on horror, I may not have progressed to reading other types of fiction. Peter Straub was one of the earliest horror writers I read - and that was GHOST STORY in the old Pocket Books paperback edition, which I read in 1980 when I was 13 years old.
The first horror fiction I read was H. P. Lovecraft and other writers of Cthulhu Mythos stories, collected in TALES OF THE CTHULHU MYTHOS by Ballantine Books. After that, I bought SUCH STUFF AS SCREAMS ARE MADE OF by Robert Bloch, collecting some of his very best horror stories (Del Rey, 1979). The first horror novel I read was THE AMITYVILLE HORROR by Jay Anson, which scared the crap out of me, although it's not that well written. Still, it had an emotional effect on me and made me want more. Next was 'SALEM'S LOT by Stephen King in the original Signet paperback (with a scary cover). Next was King's THE SHINING, which I read in summer of 1980 just before Stanley Kubrick's film came out (and now, to this day, I am determined to read a good book before ever watching a cinematic adaptation, for good reason, since most movies of good books are not very good).
The next horror novel I read was Straub's GHOST STORY - over a Christmas holiday - and I literally couldn't put it down. At one point, I curled up in front of a fire burning in our Franklin stove in the basement of our house in Laramie, Wyoming, thus reading a few chapters of GHOST STORY by pure firelight. This was a mistake, of course, as the book was almost too scary.
SHADOWLAND by Straub came out in paperback (Berkeley Books) soon after GHOST STORY, but somehow I didn't read it at the time. I did, however, purchase the hardcover first trade edition of FLOATING DRAGON when it came out in 1983. I bought it at Books-a-Go-Go in Laramie, where I'd also bought the Bloch book and 'SALEM'S LOT and THE SHINING and GHOST STORY. I read FLOATING DRAGON straight away, and found it disturbing, scary, suspenseful, elegant, and superior to any other horror novel I'd read by the time.
I started going to science fiction & fantasy conventions in 1981, and in 1983 I attended my first World Fantasy Convention in Ottawa, Ontario. In 1984, I also attended WFC, this time in Chicago, Illinois. I can't remember at which one, but I had brought my copy of FLOATING DRAGON with me and must have been carrying it around when I ran into the author in the lobby of the main convention hotel. Straub was dressed like an investment banker, looking very natty in a grey suit and tie. I worked up my courage and approached him, told him how much I loved FLOATING DRAGON, and asked him to sign my copy for me.
As he scribbled out his inscription and signature, I told him that I really admired how he had deftly switched the point-of-view of the whole novel halfway through, going from third person to first person, when we suddenly discover that an actual narrator has been telling us the story in a faux third-person POV up until the point when he advises us he's going to tell us the rest from where he himself enters the narrative. Peter Straub said, with great glee, "No one has ever noticed that before!" I couldn't believe no one had ever noticed, but it's quite possible no one had ever had the guts to tell him.
I told him I loved the book, and that it seemed to me that in FLOATING DRAGON he was trying to write the "everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink" horror novel to end all "everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink" horror novels (of which there were plenty by that time, as 'SALEM'S LOT had spawned a lot of those). He laughed and told me I was absolutely right.
I consider myself lucky to have been present at the World Fantasy Awards banquet when he won Best Novel for KOKO and received his beautiful Gahan Wilson-designed bust of H. P. Lovecraft. He gave a self-deprecating speech but seemed truly honored. Later that evening, I was attending a party given by Karl Edward Wagner in his hotel room, quite packed, and Peter Straub was there for much of the time. So I got to chat with him about KOKO as well, and got to congratulate him on his award. He was gracious and seemed truly touched.
Since then, I've read everything else he's ever written, including SHADOWLAND (which is moody and dreamlike and strange, but not perhaps as good as most of his other novels). My favorite novel of his is actually MR. X, which seems his most Lovecraftian novel although it is by no means limited to that. Now that Peter Straub is gone, it's most likely that the first of his books that I would pick up would be MR. X ... although a re-read of FLOATING DRAGON and GHOST STORY are also definitely in order. The books that make up the Blue Rose trilogy of KOKO, MYSTERY, and THE THROAT are also worth a re-read. I'll definitely be getting back to all of them, one of these days.
Last year, I bought a beautiful limited edition (in two volumes) of THE COMPLETE SHORT FICTION OF PETER STRAUB, from Borderlands Press, which I'm grateful to own, as all of his short fiction warrants a re-read as well.
R.I.P., Peter Straub. One of our best writers is gone.