New Peter Straub novel is a slow revelation of buried psychological traumas
4/5 Doubleday Spencer Mallon, campus-flitting intellectual and seducer of co-eds, is compared in the early pages of this book to a host of flattering figures: a god, a hero, a guru. What Mallon feels most like to us, though, is a Manson-like charmer who, in 1966, lures several young people out to a field, where one of them dies. How, though?
Straub, his signature style being the slow revelation of buried psychological traumas, expertly weaves a quilt of varying and sometimes conflicting recollections of the incident, left purposefully vague as we shuttle through the intervening years – unkind ones in which his characters are struck by blindness, become criminals and, in an especially sad case, go insane.
A slight slackness in the story’s middle game will have some readers exhorting, ‘Get over it already!’ – whatever ‘it’ is. But ambitiously, the author mounts his referendum on an unpredictable moment of the ’60s, saluting the era’s competing urges of decadence and justice. As the saying goes, ‘If you remember that time, you weren’t really there.’