February 20th, 2006


Straubathon: Shadowland

Reading time has been scarce, so it took me longer to finish Shadowland than expected. Though I didn't like it quite as much as Ghost Story, which is now my gold standard, Shadowland is a brilliant novel and, if possible, even more densely packed with Straubian detail.

Straub takes the unusual approach of telling the entire story in a sort of flashback, told by someone who wasn't even there for the majority of events (I say sort of because the narrator is a writer and we seem to be reading his novelized version of what happened to his friend Tom when they were boys at school together). This leads to some great moments of wondering if what we're being told is the truth or some kind of unreliable fancy with only tangential connections to reality.

The first third of the book takes place at a boys' school in Arizona, where lots of strange and sorcerous things are happening, but the novel really takes off once Tom and his friend Del head out to Shadowland, Del's magician uncle's twisty-turny home in Vermont. There we meet people who seem to be shadows of characters right out of the Brothers Grimm (Rose Red, the seven dwarves, etc.) The Grimms themselves even show up at one point, but this, like everything else in Shadowland, is a mind game perpetrated by Del's insane uncle. In Shadowland, both the place and the novel, magic is very real, and very deadly. This isn't rabbits out of top hats, this is soul stealing stuff. It's compelling and brilliantly done.

Straub also gives a few nods to his earlier novels. Miles Teagarden, the nutters antihero of If You Could See Me Now, has a cameo at the boys' school, and there's a mention of Tom's cousin Julia getting married to a barrister (presumably Magnus, from the novel Julia). I have a nerdy kind of love for when authors do that.

If there's one serious misstep in Shadowland, it's that the suicide of their classmate Marcus Reilly doesn't come into play. We're told throughout by the narrator that what Marcus did is of vital importance to the events of the novel, yet Straub never really ties it all together. The novel would be exactly the same without it, and since there isn't a lot of time spent on Marcus anyway, it would be practically the same length. I wish I knew what Straub had intended to do with that plot thread, but it didn't come through.

I'm going to take a temporary break from the Straubathon now because I really want to read Corpse Blossoms. It got lost in the mail on its way to me, so it's too late for me to recommend it or any of the stories within for Bram Stoker Awards, but from everything I've heard this is one worthy anthology and probably a shoo-in for a nomination anyway. (I'm also going to be reading the manuscript of K.Z. Perry's very first novel! Yay, envy me!) Afterward, I'll return to the Straubathon with 1983's Floating Dragon.