By Peter Straub
Middle-aged Julia has left her overbearing husband Magnus out of fear for her life. And with good reason, seemingly: he seems to have been involved in the death of their young daughter some time before. The stress of this event had lead to Julia cracking up, and she spent a term locked up in a mental institution. In fact, she's fresh out of the hospital, so when she begins sensing ghostly emanations in her new home, we're not quite sure if they are genuine, or if they are merely figments of her fractured psyche.
These emanations quickly turn violent, and it doesn't take long for Magnus to track poor Julia down. It's difficult to tell who is the true danger: her estranged husband, or the ghost of a child who seems intricately connected to her own.
This isn't the first Peter Straub novel that I've read, not by a long shot. But it is his earliest novel that I've read, and it seems quite evident that at this point he had not yet found his voice. Not only is it free of the subtle poetry, jazz music and subterranean hipsterism that his later work has, but it is also a distinctly British ghost story--quite a feat for an American author.
But that's also the problem here. It's all atmosphere and moodiness, with very little shock or awe. Perhaps I could have enjoyed it more if I had started with this book, and read the others in order, witnessing Straub's evolution over the years. Instead, I found myself quite bored and frustrated. Going back to it, it seems as if he's putting on airs.
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