SHADOWLAND by Peter Straub


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Beware, readers who enjoyed Ghost Story: you are not likely to enjoy this--a pretentious and convoluted attempt to update the dark folklore of the Brothers Grimm, with stories within stories that add up to sheer murk. The more coherent part of the book is set at a gothicky Arizona prep school in 1958: freshman Tom Flanagan becomes friends with Del Nightingale, a fabulously wealthy orphan who is a shockingly good, levitating magician. And the two freshmen are both tormented by the staff and hazed by evil upperclassmen. Evilest of all is senior Skeleton Rid-path--a thief and cheat who (when unmasked by the boys) burns down the field-house while a magic show is in progress: Tom's friend Brick dies in the fire; Skeleton avoids punishment; and Del takes Tom home with him to Putney, Vermont, to his Uncle Cole's theatrical manse called Shadowland. From that point on, an already knotty story becomes stupefyingly involved--as Tom finds himself face to face with The Collector (actually his own face made horrible) and Uncle Cole leads Tom into the nine levels of real magic. Accompanying Uncle Cole: a dastardly crew (Snail, Seed, Rock, Peet, Pease, Root, etc.) that gets its kicks with a gambling game that inflicts awful badger-baiting torment on dogs. Eventually, Tom meets the Brothers Grimm themselves, and he falls for Rose Armstrong, a spirit who may remind you of the White Rock girl. Will Tom become King of the Cats, the greatest living magician? Will Rose Armstrong be his forever? Will readers put up with sloppy, run-together imagery and turgid prose (""that yearning brooding uncertain beautiful face looming up before him, claiming him, not as much asking for trust as demanding it. . ."") just because Ghost Story was a lot of fun? Heavy publicity may indeed ensure a fair-sized demand for this, but once word-of-mouth gets around that Straub seems to have been communing with John Barth, interest will probably taper off rapidly. Likely, then, to be the most unread bestseller (in hot competition with Stone's The Origin) of the season.

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 1980
Publisher: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan