Min­ing thrills from hu­man de­prav­ity

A vet­eran sto­ry­teller of tales hor­rific and un­for­get­table shares his thoughts about his lat­est re­lease and the pub­lish­ing in­dus­try.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - READS - By CON­NIE OGLE

PETER Straub is no stranger to the su­per­nat­u­ral. He has writ­ten such un­set­tling nov­els as Ghost Story ( 1979), Shad­ow­land ( 1980) and Float­ing Dragon ( 1982). He coau­thored The Tal­is­man ( 1984) and its se­quel Black House ( 2001) with Stephen King, and his hor­ror fic­tion has earned such hon­ours as the Bram Stoker Award, World Fan­tasy Award and the In­ter­na­tional Hor­ror Guild Award.

But to Straub, 73, the per­ver­sity of hu­man na­ture pro­vides the ripest fod­der for truly dis­turb­ing sto­ries.

“What peo­ple are will­ing to do to one an­other is pretty awe- in­spir­ing,” he says in a re­cent in­ter­view. “Hu­man be­ings will jus­tify al­most any ac­tions. They’ll bring it in line as moral or at least for­giv­able be­hav­iour.”

Straub’s lat­est col­lec­tion, In­te­rior Dark­ness: Se­lected Sto­ries ( re­viewed op­po­site), re­flects that as­tute out­look. Bor­row­ing works from Houses With­out Doors ( 1990), Magic Ter­ror ( 2000) and 5 Sto­ries ( 2008) as well as three “un­col­lected” sto­ries, In­te­rior Dark­ness stares un­flinch­ingly into the black hole of hu­man de­prav­ity.

In the first story, “Blue Rose” – around which Straub built the novel tril­ogy Koko ( 1988), Mys­tery ( 1990) and The Throat ( 1993)– a fam­ily passes down a legacy of bul­ly­ing and abuse and 10- year- old Harry be­gins to un­der­stand his pen­chant for vi­o­lence. In “The Ju­niper Tree”, a boy is mo­lested in a movie theatre. In the black, grisly com­edy “Mr. Clubb And Mr. Cuff ”, a re­venge fan­tasy goes hor­ri­bly awry when a jeal­ous hus­band hires two tor­tur­ers to pun­ish his un­faith­ful wife. “We could tell you sto­ries to curl your hair,” Mr Clubb tells the un­for­tu­nate hus­band – and then pro­ceeds to do so.

The suc­cess of Straub, who lives in Brook­lyn, New York, with his wife, in­di­cates we con­tinue to have a taste for such dark ma­te­rial. Why?

“It has to do with the messi­ness of com­mon hu­man­ity,” he says. “De­spite our best ef­forts, we are all deeply flawed. The only way to have a moral life is to ac­knowl­edge those flaws and not for­get about them or deny them.”

The fol­low­ing is a Q& A from the in­ter­view.

How did you go about choos­ing works for a sin­gle an­thol­ogy?

I had wanted ideally to do a book of col- lected sto­ries. I knew it might be a pretty fat book. Then my agent in­formed me it would be two vol­umes, and there wasn’t a chance in hell I could get that pub­lished. So then I was obliged to con­sider “se­lected” sto­ries, and that meant I did have to leave out any num­ber of sto­ries that I like a lot.

It took a long time. I made many lists. Each list was the fi­nal one un­til I thought about it again. Part of the prob­lem is that half of the shorter fic­tion I’ve writ­ten isn’t at all short.

What was your cri­te­ria for in­clud­ing cer­tain sto­ries? Were you look­ing for cer­tain themes?

Oc­ca­sion­ally, sto­ries were a lit­tle friv­o­lous, and I didn’t choose those; I wanted a kind of bal­ance. Re­ally, one of the best things I’ve ever done is a story called “Bunny Is Good Bread” – which has some very graphic abuse of a small boy. When I used to read it in pub­lic my daugh­ter would make this lit­tle “Oh no, he’s read­ing that again!” face. It’s not gra­tu­itously nasty, but it is deeply nasty.

I did have one story about child abuse I was ea­ger to place in the book [“The Ju­niper Tree”], and I thought prob­a­bly one of those was enough for a sin­gle vol­ume of sto­ries. There are two sto­ries about tor­ture, though.

You’ve seen the pub­lish­ing in­dus­try change dra­mat­i­cally over the years. How do th­ese changes af­fect you?

I’m in my early 70s – I do pretty much what I want to do. I have a com­fort­able life. What I do now daily at my desk is not go­ing to pay for the tu­ition of my chil­dren in pri­vate school – they’re adults, they’re out on their own. I’m pretty sure I’m not go­ing to be

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.