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2.6 out of 5 stars
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2.6 out of 5 stars
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Peter Straub is one of my favourite authors, so I expected to enjoy this latest offering immensely. Having devoured it whole over two days, I still am not sure whether I actually enjoyed it or not. This novel is a strange hybrid of a 'buddy' novel (think Stand by Me and, yes, I do know it's a novella and part of 'Different Seasons' but tomayto, tomato, just bear with me!)a rite de passage journey and a whodunnit / what was it?
The relationships between the characters were well crafted from their adolescence, through their estrangement and as they work through to an understanding of what actually happened in the long ago. The story benefited from having a character, the writer Lee Harwell, at a remove from the actual events. Through him, Straub gave us a unencumbered view of the 'facts' but also an agent to draw together the survivors and help them face what they had seen.
I wanted to know more about the flawed 'guru' Spencer Mallon, but I felt that most of the glimpses of his character that we were given were composed of 70% b.s. and 30% philosophical b.s.! 'The Eel', I'm afraid to say, I just didn't 'get'. Yes, she is a brave, fearless, strong women, but I just plain old didn't like her much.
I suppose the question is, would I recommend this book? I think so. But first, I would hand you my extremely well thumbed 1st edition of Straub's 'The Throat' that I have read once a year since the year it was published and tell you, 'Now THAT'S a Peter Straub novel'. As for 'A Dark Matter'. It was dark. But did it matter? For me, the jury is out on that one.
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on 31 March 2011
When I read the synopsis for this book, it sounded ideal for me, as it contained two of the elements that I like in a good read - crime and the supernatural. I had never read anything by this author before so had no preconceptions of his style.

The book is written in the first person; a writer who has been having trouble in producing a follow-up to his previous success, when an incident revives memories of a long-past mysterious event that had involved his schoolfriends (including his now wife) and culminated in the horrific death of one of them. This sets the tone of the book, as our writer resolves to write about the event, and hopefully solve the mystery of how such a gruesome death occurred (the participants would never discuss what had happened). His investigations involve contacting some of the old schoolfriends who were involved in the `dark matter' and getting their perspectives on the events that unfolded.

Although I was drawn quickly into the story initially, I found that there were several occasions when there was too little action and my interest flagged, due to too much descriptive writing that seemed superfluous to the plot. This caused the story to plod and meander somewhat at various points, which is a shame because the basic storyline is a very worthy read.
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on 15 March 2011
With no disrepect meant to Stephen King, but his cover phrase on this book, Terrifying? No! Impossible to put down? No! For me the promise of terror never remotely comes close to fruition. I found this book, the first i have read by the hugely acclaimed and respected Peter Straub a pleasure to put down at times. The back cover promised so much yet delivered so little. Only a few times did Peter Straub draw me into a belief in the characters and situations he portrays at extreme length with visions of darkness and the horror of an event in a meadow that shaped the characters lives for ever. The main characters, apart from the author Lee Harwell, had ultimately paid a price for abusive childhoods by seeking out an enigmatic guru to follow and worship only for it to go awfully wrong. This didn't generate the sympathy of me as a reader as the story appears to retell itself over and over from the viewpoint of the individuals concerned.I was left checking and re-checking the number of the last page, wondering when the terror would start only for me to dissapointed as the tale wound to a weary conclusion. Maybe's i've been unlucky in that this was my first taste of Mr Straub, but this book certainly wasn't for me.
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on 20 February 2011
This is the first solo Peter Straub book I have read (Yes, the other was The Talisman with Stephen King, thank you for asking) and I am still uncertain as to whether I enjoyed it. However I am glad that I have read it.

As with other Peter Straub books I have tried to read, I read the first few chapters, and whilst not disliking it, I stopped reading then without feeling any urge to find out what happened in the rest of the book. This time however, I went back to it a week later and finished it, and I am glad that I did.

The premise of the book is a fairly common one. A group of high school kids are enthralled by someone who takes them to perform a rite, promising that it will change reality. Though he admits, it might change only for a couple of minutes. The story is told not at that time, or from the viewpoint of any of those who took part, but from the later investigations of the husband of one of them, the only one who chose not to become involved.

I think I would call this Dark Fantasy, rather than Horror. If you are looking for slasher shocks and violence, you won't find them in this book, more a philosophical exploration of what each saw, and how the 'enlightenment' changed their lives.
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on 30 May 2013
I found this one of the most boring books I have ever tried to read. The characters are one and all uninteresting and before long I couldn't care less what happened to any of them. I did finish it, but have to admit I speed read a lot, hoping something was going to scare, or even interest me.
It didn't.
Two stars because obviously a lot of work went into it, but I don't think I'll be going back to this author.
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on 14 April 2011
As always, Straub grabs the reader's attention from the opening sentence and keeps you guessing right up till the end. We begin by knowing that this group of friends had a terrifying experience back in the 60's which has had lasting repercussions on their lives. These impressionable teens had been brainwashed by a charismatic self-styled "guru", Spencer Mallon, who promised them that if they took part in his experiment they would change the world. But the plans go horribly wrong and Mallon is totally out of his depth as he releases forces that even he cannot control. 40 years later, Lee, the only member of the group who refused to participate, decides to track down the surviving members of the group in order to gather information for a book he intends to write. His own wife (also named Lee but known as The Eel) has refused to talk about it and all he knows is that whatever happened in 1966 caused her to lose her sight in her 30's. As one by one the friends tell their version of events, the reader will be gripped by the horror that unfolds, and it is not until the closing section of the book that the Eel finally breaks her silence.
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on 11 May 2011
As an avid reader of everything from literature to comics, I devour good authors - and Straub is one of the best. My other favourite contemporary novel-writers are Geoff Ryman and Graham Joyce, so I'm working in a horror/fantasy vein here.
The characters truly took root in my imagination, and I think I'm going to be carrying them around with me for a while (especially the adorable Hooty).
Straub's style can sometimes be rather labyrinthine sometimes (previos novel, 'The Throat' for instance, should have been a couple of hundred pages shorter) but it works well in this story of a husband working backwards from what he knows in the present day, to discover what happened to his wife and their best friends in High School in 1966.
Very supernatural in nature (more so than Straub's usual oeuvre), and not unlike Dracula in structure, the book tells the story of one fatal night through many viewpoints, and the reader is ultimately left to decide for her/himself what really occurred.

If you like well-written dark fiction, you can't really go wrong here.

BTW: Amazon - why no more "I own this" and "rate it" button? What gives?
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on 9 March 2010
As per his mini-bio in the back of the book, Peter Straub has "written nineteen novels and won, multiple times, every award his expanding genre bestows," and so it follows that readers will come to A Dark Matter with a certain measure of anticipation. With what is perhaps his most ambitious fiction to date, however, Straub does not go about systematically catering to expectations. Far from it, in fact; though its tangled narrative stems from a seemingly simple premise - one man in the modern day must piece together the mysterious events that shattered and scattered his adolescent peer group - A Dark Matter is a difficult novel from the first page, wherein the semantic significance of the word 'obstreperous' brings a flood of difficult memories back to Lee Harwell.

Our protagonist is a reasonably popular novelist, treading water when we join him in search of his muse. He doesn't flounder for long: when Lee comes into possession of a late police detective's tell-all memoir, inspiration hits him like a ten tonne truck. To his surprise, the manuscript ties into the very events that his wife, the wonderful Eel, has hidden from him for decades. The desperate lawman's last-ditch attempt to expose a serial murderer represents something else to Lee, however: it is a way in, at long last, to the hidden history of an eventful few weeks in the 1960s.

All those years ago, Lee alone saw through Spencer Mallon, a wandering guru with so-called psychic abilities; the rest of his friends bought into the handsome stranger's supposedly spiritual powers wholesale. Lee's stubborn scepticism sets him forever apart from the awful events that followed Spencer's sham seduction of his nearest and dearest, in which an evening in a meadow left its susceptible young participants variously confused, crazed, blind, missing without a trace or, in one case, eviscerated as if by some nightmarish creature.

So far, you might say, so-so. Any reader with a passion for the horror genre will surely have come across one iteration or another of A Dark Matter's premise before, but Straub's approach is more unique. The underpinning narrative of his nineteenth novel is indeed Lee's, and further, the first version of the dark matter at its creeping, beating heart is his - an imagined, fictionalised interpretation - but the writer, not to mention the reader, derives a gathering understanding of the shocking events in the meadow only from those who experienced it first-hand. Throughout A Dark Matter, Boats, Hootie, Meredith, Dill and the Eel all state their respective cases, and each has a different tale to tell.

Straub does an admirable job of maintaining some sort of equilibrium between so very many perspectives, rendering them distinct from one another and yet binding them despite their dissonance; despite the countless contradictions and confusions and hallucinations. Together, the myriad individual slants coalesce into one single, intangible thing... a question, in some senses, voiced by Lee himself as he embarks on the journey of other-discovery that makes up the bulk of the narrative: "Is evil innate, and a human quality, or is it an external entity, and inhuman in nature?" For all its strengths, and let's not beat around the bush, they are many - Straub is an esteemed, award-winning author for good reason - the single most disappointing thing about A Dark Matter is that it never answers that question satisfactorily.

Then again, explanations are rarely as exciting as the endlessly promising questions that beg them; better, in the end, for some enquiries to remain unanswered. That said, A Dark Matter would be a considerably more rewarding read were it a little lighter on the mystique. There is ambiguity everywhere, and perhaps that is precisely the point, but it is not a point that resounds so easily by itself - for uncertainty to be truly useful in a narrative, there must exist some sort of backbone against which to measure it. For there to be a self, there must be an other. Clearly, Straub is not without such awareness: as one demon with an old-time New York accent observes to Eel, "Millions of dumbbells believe that death is evil, as though they thought they should be immortal. [But] without death, you would have no beauty, no meaning," and so, lacking any substantial counterpoint, the borderline lunatic musings of the teenagers who go with Spencer to the meadow are not so effective as they could have been.

Yet, for all its imbalance, A Dark Matter is a piece of literary entertainment just short of sublime. Straub knows very well how to spin a tale and his characters are extraordinary specimens, lively and surprising - particularly Hootie and the aforementioned Eel. A few of the narrative's beats are somewhat suspect, but we can only admire the experimentation of such an established author. I did not love A Dark Matter, this much is true, but as one particular hallucination would be quick to point out, hatred is not the opposite of love, and it is certainly an easy thing to admire Straub's nineteenth novel - if not to fall entirely under its metaphysical spell.
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on 22 April 2011
I don't know why but I just can't get into this book. I've tried 3 or 4 times now and I'm finding it most a unenjoyable, almost depressing read.
In the first few chapters there are quite a few characters to get to know and to be honest I don't like any of them, so I'm not interested in their story.
Sometimes, when you start a new book, and you like the main character/s, you just hope they're still alive at the end, well with this bunch, I really couldn't care less.

When I start a new book, I just want to immerse myself completely in it. When I go to work, I want to rush back and carry on reading, I miss it and can't wait to get back. I put `a dark matter' down 3 days ago and have no interest in picking it up again.

I read the synopsis and thought I would enjoy this, put unfortunately it just does not grip me at all. Maybe I'll try it again sometime in the distant..very distant future.
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on 3 April 2011
In Straub's latest offering, A Dark Matter, his use of language is often so powerful it hits the reader like a blow to the solar plexus. From the very beginning, there is an almost palpable threat hanging in the air. And it's a bunch of innocent 1960s students - some charmed and golden; some geeky - who are most at risk.

The story is written around a group of multi-dimensional characters who share an unbelievably horrific experience which is to blight their entire lives. The convoluted plot of
A Dark Matter pits the unthinkable against the unspeakable while both assault the reader's grey matter.

Stephen King is quoted on the cover as saying: "Terrifying... impossible to put down." Loath though I am to challenge the master, I beg to differ: I needed to put it down every so often in order to ration the horror to manageable bite-sized pieces.
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