22 October 2015

Books: Ghost Story By Peter Straub (1980)

I originally read Peter Straub’s Ghost Story in 1980, right around when the paperback version was released. I was in the midst of reading Stephen King and knowing that Straub and King were friends, I thought I try another horror novelist. I had already read Dean Koontz, and found him lacking (and find him even today, a pale imitation of King, and John Saul seemed to be stuck going over the same territory again and again. I had enjoyed –for a time-the gothic aspects of V.C. Andrews. But on the whole, over these decades I’ve been reading, only King remained the one author I read continuously in the horror genre. 

After the huge success of Ghost Story in 1979 –Straub had published two mainstream novels before he found moderate success with Julia (1975) and If You Could See Me Now (1977), books with heavy supernatural themes –he went on to write the best-sellers Shadowland (1980) and Floating Dragon (1983). He teamed up with Stephen King to write The Talisman in 1985 before his writing took a turn into more gothic and psychological territory that was formed with what would be called The Blue Rose Trilogy in Koko (1988), Mystery (1990), and The Throat (1993). These complex and intertwined novels extended Straub's explorations into metafiction and unreliable narrators. The thriller Hellfire Club (1996) and Mr. X (1999) would follow, continuing his more literary approach things that go bump in the night. In 2001, he and King published the loose sequel to The Talisman called Black House (which was also disguised as a Dark Tower novel).

Lost Boy, Lost Girl (2003) and In the Night Room (2004) where a return to previous characters featured in The Blue Rose Trilogy (like King, Straub had a tendency to set his stories in and around the same areas, which meant characters and towns from previous novels popped up). A Dark Matter was released in 2010 and remains his last book, though he seems to have a book coming, possibly in 2016.

Anyways, I’ve not read every Straub book, like I’ve done Stephen King. While I like his work, his books are fairly dense and defiantly more literary than long-time friend King. But I had been thinking lately of re-reading a few of his old books, in particular Ghost Story, Shadowland and Floating Dragon. As I’ve noted many times before, I don’t usually re-read books. But here is October and maybe, in this month of Halloween, reading a spooky book seemed appropriate. So, yeah, I re-read Ghost Story.

While I still remembered the structure of the book –it is a ghost story that spans fifty years- I found I still things I had forgotten. The book is way over long, though. This book could’ve been 100 pages less and not lessened his ideas one bit. But it also contains one the best scenes I still remember to this day, when Peter Barnes figures out where some of the ghosts haunting Milburn are hiding out. 

It also got me thinking about the 1981 movie adaptation of this book. I remember how much I disliked it, as the movie jettisoned a lot of the book and stuck with its basic themes of a vengeful ghost. Much like what Stanley Kubrick did with Stephen King’s The Shining, director John Irvin and screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen sort of took a bare-bones approach. Most likely though, because the novels structure of flashing back and forwards in time and its large cast of supporting characters would’ve made a linear movie difficult. 

Honestly, though, much like Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, I would not mind a large screen (or even a small screen, multi-part) remake of this book. I think it deserves a better treatment.  

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