No one tells a story like Peter Straub. He dazzles with the complexity of his plots. He delights with the sophistication and eloquence of his prose. He startles you into laughter in the face of events so dark you begin to question your own moral compass. Then he reduces you to jelly by spinning a tale so terrifying-and surprising-you wind up sleeping with the lights on. With Magic Terror, the bestselling author of Ghost Story and The Talisman (with Stephen King) has given us one of the most imaginatively unsettling collections in years. The terrain of these extraordinary stories is marked by brutality, heart-break, despair, wonder, and an unexpected humor that allows empathy to blossom within the most unlikely contexts. "Bunny Is Good Bread" takes us into the mind of a small boy trapped in grotesque circumstances to portray the creation of a serial killer in a manner that compels pity, sorrow, comprehension, and grief-as well as judgment. "Hunger, an Introduction," narrated by the ghost of a pompous, self-pitying murderer, evokes a profoundly beautiful vision of earthly life, one appreciated far more by the dead than the living.
The war-numbed soldier who asks, "Just suppose...,that you were forced to confront extreme experience directly, without any mediation " speaks for all of the spiritually traumatized souls who navigate the harrowingly rendered hells of these seven tales of suspense and horror. Straub (Mr. X) effortlessly plumbs the hearts and minds of a range of well-developed characters�including a reflective assassin for hire, a five-year-old victim of domestic violence, an aging black jazz musician and a pompous Wall Street financial adviser�to locate epiphanic moments when their lives careened "out of the ordinary" and into the path of deforming private tragedy. In "Ashputtle," an implied murderess blames her crimes on an emotionally deprived childhood in which she imagines herself a modern Cinderella victimized by her cruel stepsisters. "Bunny Is Good Bread," an unnerving portrait of the psychopath as a young boy, follows young Fee Bandolier as he maladjusts to an unbearably gothic home situation in which his father has beaten his mother into a coma. "Porkpie Hat" is related as an alcoholic saxophonist's confession of a childhood brush with witchcraft, murder and miscegenation that continues to inform his blues-haunted music. In several of the tales�most notably "The Haunted Village," which links to the novel Koko (1988) and stories from his previous collection, Houses Without Doors (1990)�Straub skillfully evokes the supernatural to suggest the dislocating effect of intense psychological upset. Mixing stark realism with black comedy, and reverberating with echoes of Conrad, Melville and the Brothers Grimm, these excursions to the dark side of life set a high standard for the literature of contemporary magic terror. (July) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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August 28, 2001
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Excerpt from Magic Terror by Peter Straub
People think that teaching little children has something to do with helping other people, something to do with service. People think that if you teach little children, you must love them. People get what they need from thoughts like this.
People think that if you happen to be very fat and are a person who acts happy and cheerful all the time, you are probably pretending to be that way in order to make them forget how fat you are, or cause them to forgive you for being so fat. They make this assumption, thinking you are so stupid that you imagine that you're getting away with this charade. From this assumption, they get confidence in the superiority of their intelligence over yours, and they get to pity you, too.
* * *
Those figments, those stepsisters, came to me and said, Don't you know that we want to help you? They came to me and said, Can you tell us what your life is like?
These moronic questions they asked over and over: Are you all right? Is anything happening to you? Can you talk to us now, darling? Can you tell us about your life?
I stared straight ahead, not looking at their pretty hair or pretty eyes or pretty mouths. I looked over their shoulders at the pattern on the wallpaper and tried not to blink until they stood up and went away.
What my life was like? What was happening to me?
Nothing was happening to me. I was all right.
They smiled briefly, like a twitch in their eyes and mouths, before they stood up and left me alone. I sat still on my chair and looked at the wallpaper while they talked to Zena.
The wallpaper was yellow, with white lines going up and down through it. The lines never touched-- just when they were about to run into each other, they broke, and the fat thick yellow kept them apart.
I liked seeing the white lines hanging in the fat yellow, each one separate.
When the figments called me darling, ice and snow stormed into my mouth and went pushing down my throat into my stomach, freezing everything. They didn't know I was nothing, that I would never be like them, they didn't know that the only part of me that was not nothing was a small hard stone right at the center of me.
That stone has a name. MOTHER.