Lazy Saturday

>> Saturday, May 17, 2008

You can tell where I slathered sunscreen yesterday and where I was half-assed about it. Take my right arm, for instance: up to about the line of the sleeve, it's an acceptable nut-brown and then the skin abruptly turns viciously red. Oops. And my face, regrettably, is kinda like a Cheronian's right now: half my face is noticeably redder than the other. Double oops.

Between that and an aversion to getting into the car right now, I don't see myself driving out to the trails to walk around. I'm not going to rule out walking up the street with a book for coffee, but there's also a good chance that, beautiful weather be damned, I might just sit inside all day. Maybe I'll watch DVDs, or maybe I'll read.

Because I don't have enough open books right now, I started Peter Straub's The Throat last night. In my defense, let me say that this one should read pretty quickly if Mystery was any kind of indicator. The Throat is the third book in Straub's so-called "Blue Rose" trilogy (the first book in the series was Koko).

I first read Koko in college, in '93 or '94--I can pin down the year because my copy is a used paperback I picked up (I'm quite sure I picked up) in a used bookstore that used to be on the main drag in Boone when I was at Appalachian State. I like Straub, but my memory is that I was underwhelmed by Koko; I suppose I'll have to re-read it now. The most I could probably tell you about plot at this point in time is that a series of murders tie back to an atrocity committed in Vietnam during the war, and that the major characters from Koko continue to crop up in various Straub novels and short stories--Koko's Tim Underhill is the narrator of The Throat and also Straub's recent Lost Boy Lost Girl and In The Night Room, and other Koko characters have shown up in various short stories (some of which are putatively stories by Underhill, who is a writer and even claims in The Throat to have collaborated with Straub on Koko and Mystery).

Mystery, on the other hand, was nearly impossible to put down in spite of its flirtation with some of Straub's vices--there's a certain amount of predictability in some of Straub's work when you get used to his literary sensibilities and lack of sentimentality when it comes to characters, e.g. it's often easy to tell who's going to die and who's going to be miserable by the end of the book because that's how Straub tends to write them.

Incidentally, Straub's vices as a writer are exactly why he and Stephen King were such brilliant partners on The Talisman. Straub tends to have--I don't know if this will make sense--Straub tends to have a sort of literary voice as a writer while King tends to have a kind of pulpish voice, and where Straub is horribly unsentimental about his creations (or perhaps merely overcompensates for being sentimental with a bit of callousness on the page), King tends to be so sentimental he sometimes sabotages himself. (A good example of the latter is King's Cell, in which the writer's reluctance to coldly take his premise to its logical conclusion in the last several pages turns everything that's preceded--the entire novel, basically--into a South Park episode.) Anyway, it's baffling that Straub and King managed to wreck the sequel to Talisman, Black House--The Talisman is one of the best fantasy novels of the 1980s, due in large part to Straub's and King's strengths reinforcing each other while their weaknesses cancel out.

The Throat is kind of the book that makes the three books (Koko, Mystery, The Throat) a trilogy: Tim Underhill begins the novel hinting to us about what drove him to write Koko and Mystery with his good friend Peter Straub, and even goes as far to tell us that the events of the second book didn't actually take place where he and Straub claimed: they set Mystery on a Caribbean island "Because we liked the idea...," but Tom Passmore, the protagonist of Mystery, was really a resident of Straub's fictional Tim Underhill's hometown of Millhaven all along. This is something else I will say to Peter Straub's credit: very few writers have the balls to begin a novel by pretty much saying their last novel was full of lies, lies, lies. (Yeah sure, it's fiction and it's all lies anyway, and yet most writers beginning a sequel will take it as a given that the events in prior books were more-or-less accurate except for the parts that have to be retconned because of an authorial screwup; Straub basically begins The Throat by undermining the reader's trust in the previous books in what is now revealed to be an unexpected arc--a few pages later, we're even told that the formative experience in Tom Passmore's early childhood, being run over by a car, never happened to Passmore at all, but allegedly happened to Tim Underhill, who incorporated his own experience into the novel Mystery. Unreliable narrator, indeed.)

(Another aside: Nick Cave fans who don't already know it, might like to learn that Straub's fictional Millhaven was "borrowed" by Cave for "The Curse Of Millhaven," a brilliant bit of serio-comic psychosis on Cave's Murder Ballads. Her name is Loretta, but she prefers Lottie.)

So anyway: I'm sunburned and prone to semi-obscure Star Trek references, I may not do much more than read today, go pick up some Peter Straub if you don't know him. Hope you're having/had a good Saturday, and I promise I'll fix this blog at some point. Cheers.


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