“Did I say he was dead? What I said was, he is…gone.” Welcome to an odd world in which the dead never quite go away, and the living are—well, not quite there.
Readers of horror know, even if characters in movies and books do not, that it’s never a good idea to go up to the attic, even when it’s euphemized as “the upstairs junk room.” Bad things happen in such dark interior spaces, as the characters in Straub’s long opening story learn; in a narrative marked by a tenuous hold on time and an even more tenuous one on reality, an unfortunate young man finds that hypnosis is maybe not such a good idea after all, leading to an event that, the protagonist tells us, “virtually destroyed my family.” And not just virtually. Straub (In the Night Room, 2004, etc.), who, this collection ably reveals, has affinities with both Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft, likes nothing more than a good, taut, psychologically charged yarn that raises more questions than it answers: “I thought of myself as a work of art,” a denizen of one fairy tale–like story remarks. “I caused responses without being responsible for them.” In a Straub-ian world, proper responses include puzzlement, nervousness, and fear, to say nothing of indulging in coprophiliac moments that are going to ruin some unfortunate housekeeper’s day. Denial is also allowed; as another of Straub’s characters yelps, bewildered at the thought that Herman Melville’s story “Bartleby the Scrivener” should be esteemed enough to be taught in school, “I never went to any college, but I do know that nothing means what it says, not on this planet.” That’s exactly right, one reason not to trust Straub’s narrators, whose worlds include an unhealthy amount of free-floating anger and not a little craziness—though if anger and craziness can bring a taxi-flattened cat back to life, then so much the better.
Dark, brooding fiction from a master of the form. And take our word for it: don’t go up to the attic, even if it is just a junk room.