Book Review: Magic Terror by Peter Straub

straubFirst, let it be said that I am in awe of Straub’s wordsmithing abilities. The guy is a master of his craft and one of the more daring author’s out there, never settling for “more of the same.”

That being said, this collection of “short” stories was … exhausting. Like reading a book you’re forced to get through for some college class, I found myself dreading to come back to this one (as is obvious from the two months it took me to finish it).

A few of these stories I didn’t care for at all, from the premise to the execution; several contained fascinating set-ups or characters, but went stale long before their endings; and one, I thought was absolutely brilliant. But judging this as an anthology or collection of stories, I’d say it left a lot to be desired.

A few notes on the 7 stories in question:

– Ashputtle: by far my favorite of the bunch (also the shortest in the book). About a kindergarten teacher going through a psychotic breakdown, I loved the innovative way this story was told. 5 stars

– Isn’t It Romantic: an almost James Bond-esque spy narrative that was a tedious read, with a payoff that just wasn’t worth the journey. Probably my least favorite. 1 star

– The Ghost Village: A haunting tale (sort of) regarding life in the Viet Nam war and a village where atrocities took place. Fairly unmemorable. 2 stars

– Bunny is Good Bread: Interesting concept about a young boy and his disturbed father who keeps his dying wife locked up in their house rather than bringing her in for treatment. The characterizations were brilliantly executed, but the story itself felt stagnant. 3 stars

– PorkPie Hat: I really enjoyed this one, about a Jazz lover who interviews one of the greats, who he calls “Hat,” and the reasons Hat never plays on Halloween night.

“Most people will tell you growing up means you stop believing in Halloween things — I’m telling you the reverse. You start to grow up when you understand that the stuff that scares you is part of the air you breathe.”

This could have been turned into a full length novel and I would have gladly stayed along for the ride. 4 stars

– Hunger, An Introduction: What a chilling concept – that ghosts stick around because they are starving, never being able to eat. Unfortunately this one was a bit of a narrative mess. 2 stars

– Mr. Clubb and Mr. Cuff: This one reminded me of a Neil Gaiman story, with the two hired assassins coming off almost as mythological in nature. Quite entertaining, though with an ending that felt tacked on. 3.5 stars

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