I have been a Peter Straub fan since childhood (yep, I was strange), and I’ve been dying to read A DARK MATTER ever since I became aware of its existence. Over the weekend, I finally sat down and breezed through the entire volume. First impression: Wisconsin must be some kind of portal to hell (this book reinforces an opinion formed during the first 18 years of my life, which I spent in Milwaukee; add to this Neil Gaiman’s AMERICAN GODS, which finally and formally points the finger at Spring Green, WI’s House on the Rock as some kind of weird window to another world [I always knew it!]!).
A DARK MATTER was a much heavier read than I’d expected. Well, sort of — Straub’s books always have that kind of… literary (?) quality to them, stylistically, which is one of the things I love about his writing, but I’m talking more about the subject matter this time. The story focuses on some sort of ritual performed out in a quiet Madison, WI meadow, by a group of gullible teens and their much more experienced “guru.” I found the whole thing to be a sober statement regarding the very nature of life. (I told you it was heavy!)
Now, I’m not a professional reviewer or anything, but I’ll tell you what this story said to me. This “guru” character, Spenser Mallon, blows into a college town (the latest in a string of many?) in search of spiritual “disciples.”He appears to be what a lot of kids aspire to: an adventurous well-traveled, charming, good-looking free spirit in search of some greater truth. Mallon seduces a group of high school and college students with ambiguous tales of adventure as well as some puzzling philosophies. But, (and this is just my opinion — I could be waaay off base here) the guy is an illusion who steals the innocence of these high school and college students — to me, anyway, he represents False Hope.
Mallon leads these kids into believing there’s some magical key to the universe or something out there and that they can find it if they just follow him. They, too, can be adventurous free spirits with some kind of inside knowledge. So, they fall in love with him and do whatever it is he asks. But, in the end, they find out that he can’t handle the terrors present in reality and these kids are left on their own to face what the real world is all about, not quite understanding what happened to them during this ritual they took part in, and all are severely damaged by the experience.
A couple of the younger kids fight through the disturbing meadow experience (in which they mostly see the evil that exists just below the surface of our world [only one or two see through Mallon to an overwhelming good]), and they become better people for surviving their ordeal. One is blinded, but she sees a basic goodness wrapped even in life’s most disturbing conundrums. Another speaks only in quotes and is institutionalized for much of his life, but he, too, caught a glimpse of some greater good through the meadow’s maelstrom of terrifying images.
A DARK MATTER explores subjects of life, death, love, friendship, and hope. It makes me think today’s youth are disillusioned and feel their lives are absolutely ruined when they discover that most of them will never get the opportunity to do whatever they want, that they will just become cogs in one big evil machine. Life is never quite what you hope it will be when you’re a kid. The knowledge crushes many, but some see through the dark matters and become beacons of hope on their own.
A DARK MATTER is a thought-provoking great read. I highly recommend it. Thank you, Peter, for another great story.