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on November 9, 2014
I saw this book but didn't get it for the longest time, partially because of the reviews. But finally, I thought, well, I've pretty much at least enjoyed everything he wrote (even if I didn't think everything is as good as my favorite, Ghost Story), so I decided to buy it. I'm glad I did. It's far from brilliant and it's not his best book. But not his best still means this is an enjoyable read to me. Like all of his work, I felt the characterization was well done, and I also enjoy the way he writes about another time, with a bit of nostalgia and a lot of realism (odd to say in a horror novel, but it's true). I think he captured the age well.

Yes, it's long. It's certainly not a thrill a minute, but I read Straub because I enjoy the way he builds tension, step by step, and I certainly was drawn in. I actually liked getting all the characters different take on what happened.

So if you're a fan of Straub in general, and I certainly am, then I think this is worth a read.
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Peter Straub's latest novel of the unreal and macabre "A Dark Matter," is among many things a head trip back to Madison and the University of Wisconsin campus during the chaotic and violent 60s. Like the two non-fiction books "Rads" by Tom Bates and David Maraniss' "They Marched into Sunlight," this novel drops you smack dab into the anti-Vietnam street protests and the bombing of the UW's Sterling Hall, tear gas and billy clubs, burning street barricades. It's a trek back in time to "Miffland" the center of campus unrest in Madison.

As the master of horror, Straub heaps on all things phantasmagorical.

Lee Harwell is a well-know novelist struggling with his next book. A random encounter in a Chicago coffee shop gets him thinking back to an occult ceremony in 1966 in Madison in which four of his high school friends hook up with a charismatic shaman-like itinerant named Spencer Mallon, who by whim or will ends up opening a door to hell and changes all their lives forever.

Hootie Bly has been institutionalized since, communicating by quoting from Hawthorne's "Scarlet Letter." Eel Truax, who is now married to Harwell, has gone blind. Life has turned out strangely for different reasons for Jason Boatman and Dilly Olson. Another participant, a Mallon hanger-on, was found dead, grotesquely mauled, in the meadow where the incident had taken place under the eye of the moon. Otherworldly, ungodly goings-on have occurred.

Harwell gathers the participants together and each presents his or her version of events. And thereby lies the tale. Each telling is different and the pieces only add up if you're able to connect to and are easily swayed by things very far out, supernatural and unearthly. Don't, for instance, give this book as a gift to an accountant or engineer.

"A Dark Matter" is a tale of horror, slight on the horror. Straub is one of the genre's best stylists. This book is among his best from that side of the book shelf. Some sections are constructed of words piled wondrously against one another. But it's also ponderous and simply confusing rather than metaphorical or even scary. When it's all said and done, Straub has done a better job in other novels of weaving his spell.
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on December 28, 2014
I have read much Straub, I think, and over an expanse of time that finds me, 25 years later, writing a short note , (my god, for Amazon? Really?) about this novel - where I suppose a more heartfelt note could have been written much earlier, on his novel Shadowland.
Several of his books involve a youth who is either more perceptive or just more observant than the norm, and in so perceiving begins to sense some abnormality that intrudes into daily life, haunting the young person who saw or felt the intrusion. But the abnormality is always light. It never weighs so heavily that the rest of the world need notice it. If there are deaths, and they are inexplicable, then they dissolve into the noise of other unexplained events, events which though unexplained are also perfectly explicable. There is always some doubt that anything at all was seen, and that perhaps it was all something dreamed (day) and imagined, concocted by the character wittingly though perhaps unwillingly.
A Dark Matter is an example of this, Straubs own trope. Here there are multiple children each perceptive, and each seeing things that are , largely, agreed upon by all. We do not spend much time with them as children but as adults, acid-washed like jeans, as they come together again to talk about their strange consensus reality for the last time.
What is interesting to me about Straub, as seen in this book, is how he largely avoids the jibble-jabble that lesser writers would misuse their words on. He describes a Summoning, an archetypal supernatural witchy magic demon thing, which one would think to be instantly and unforgivably trite, but somehow he puts no importance on it. It is there, I can find the sentences in the text, but the reader is gently pushed away from having to consider them.
That is a slight of hand that is perfected here, and is one of several reasons that if you were to a writer be, you should spend some time with Straub, here in his genre of one.
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on April 11, 2010
I love Peter Straub. To me, he's the literary version of Stephen King. His writing is vastly better and his frightening imagery is just how I like it: simple, horrifying, imaginative imagery whose roots lay in the commonplace. Straub is a master of context. Whereas King scares by screaming at the reader about fanged clowns in sewers, I feel like Straub whispers his subtle horrors to you until you're on the verge of hysteria yet you don't know why. In a previous book, Shadowlands, a magician turns a teenage boy into a sparrow, who then flaps frantically around. Simple? Yes. Terrifying? Absolutely.

This book examines one brief incident in the lives of six teenagers from their perspective as an adult. The tale isn't about what actually occurred on that day, but how each of the characters experiences differ. Admittedly, I'm not crazy about devices like this when used in books or movies - when they reenact the same thing over and over through different people's eyes - but Straub does a decent enough job. It's anecdotal, conversational, and easy to read. The main character is quite droll, and since he's an author, Straub gets to play a bit with the public's perception of his (Straub's) identity. There are brief moments of "wow what an frightening thought", but those moments are few. There's a great deal of feeling in this book. In the hands of anyone else, this construct would've failed miserably, but Straub is a master, so he pulls it off. When you're done with this book, you'll feel a (brief) pang of regret.
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on May 11, 2010
The chills in A Dark Matter are rooted in the darkness of the human soul, as much as in any supernatural agency. Weaving timelines into a tapestry of tales both larger-than-life and oh-so-ordinary, Peter Straub captures the texture of secrets. The secrets we keep from ourselves, the secrets we keep from others and the secrets behind the veil. All of this is wrapped in a comforting cocoon of lyrical prose, so comforting, in fact, that it makes the terror that much more pervasive.

Lee and the Eel, spouses, shadow-twins and the bookend anchors of A Dark Matter, are incredibly present personalities. You'll know them, and yet be surprised by them. Much of the narrative creates a feel of being disconnected from the familiar, even in familiar surroundings.

Read it for the plot - An esoteric experiment gone wrong in the 60s and the journey to find out what really happened; or, read between the lines as Straub deftly paints portraits of how we grow into who we are, and asks hard questions about what love means between friends, spouses and how we protect that.

A Dark Matter is not horror as you may expect it, it is the subtle menace ever-present in our own humanity. Well worth the reading.
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on March 29, 2016
Disappointing read. Plot line hard to follow. I never understood what I was reading. Forced myself to finish the book. Would not recommend it.
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on August 23, 2011
I am an avid fan of reading fiction and non-fiction alike, my ultimate guilty pleasure is horror fiction. I have been reading since I was a teenager 30 years ago and I can honestly say this is one of the dullest and most boring books I have ever read. The pace is terrible, the dialogue is tripe and the buildup of the big event is a major let down. I have found Straub's writing can be very bland at times and at other times interesting. This book was unfortunately on the bland side throughout the book, my wife just finished this as well and commented it was one of the worst books she has ever read as well. She even as went as far to say she was going to write a letter to the other authors who lost the Bram Stoker award for novel of the year apologizing for this obvious rip-off/heinous diatribe called horror fiction that Straub published.
I had to force myself to finish this book, it was like wading through quicksand while being stung by hammer ants. I have read 3 of the other nominees for the Stoker and feel bad that they lost to this piece of refuse.
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on July 16, 2010
The story revolves around an event that occurred in 1966 in Madison WI, when 4 teenage friends get caught up in an occult ritual performed by Spencer Malon; with whom they have become infatuated.

The narrator of the story is Lee Hayward, who was friends with the 4 and is now married to Lee Truax, one of the participants in the "Dark Matter". The story is relayed from the perspective of each participant and how it's shaped or damaged their respective lives, including that of the narrator.

Surprisingly, I found the storyline of this book difficult to follow; in part because of how it was narrated. I found it distracting trying to figure out when a character was relaying their memories of the incident, versus when they were having a present day conversation. This was especially true when the character "Hootie" was both remembering the events leading up to the day of the "Dark Matter" and reading the events as they were laid out in Lee Hayward's book.
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on April 17, 2010
Through the reading of this book, there were times I really liked the book (the first 1/2) and times where I couldn't wait for the damn thing to be over (the next 1/4) and times where I just didn't know how I felt (the last quarter and several smaller parts throughout). Overall I feel the book was probably quite good--I just didn't like it all that well. It's really quite a mess of a novel. By the end I felt better about spending so many hours reading the book then I did as I worked my way throught it, but I couldn't bring myself to say that I liked it. I can understand those who give it 4 and 5 stars just as well as those who give it 1 and 2 stars. Therefore I'll give it a solid, but not so confident, 3 stars. Now that you're done reading this review, you'll probably want to click that it was not-helpful, and you're probably right. But now that it's done, perhaps you like it a little better?
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on October 10, 2016
Although I usually love Peter straub, I found this story really confusing and it didn't flow well.
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