A DARK MATTER by Peter Straub (2010 Doubleday / 397 pp. / hc)
During the 60s, a group of friends become devoted followers of a college-campus guru named Spencer Mallon. Lee Traux's boyfriend (also named Lee) refuses to get involved. One night in 1966, Mallon brings the group to a meadow to perform an unusual occultic/enlightenment ritual that ends up severely changing the lives of everyone involved.
Modern day: Lee Harwell's a semi-famous author, attempting to understand what happened to his (now) wife and friends those many years ago. The bulk of Straub's MATTER deals with Lee and Don "Dilly" Olson (he, a survivor of the ritual) connecting with those who were there and trying to discover what actually occurred [while one review claimed this was the novel's downfall, I'm convinced this "reviewer" didn't even read half of Straub's intense, disturbing, and emotionally-charged character study.]
Hootie Bly, another survivor, has spent the majority of his life in a mental institution, speaking only in quotes from famous (and some not so famous) novels. When Lee and Don get to visit him, Hootie at long last opens up and begins to recount what happened, even using some of his own words. Amazed at this long-awaited progress, Hootie's doctor eventually allows him to move to another facility, close to Chicago where Harwell and his wife Lee ("Eel" to her friends) now reside.
In the fascinating (and lengthy) final discourse, the now-blind Lee "Eel" Truax finally (and for ONE time only) reveals what she experienced on that fateful night as her husband, Hootie, Don, and former thief (and fellow guru-survivor) Jason Boatman listen on. And it's here where Straub let's the surreal imagery fly off the handle, at times to the extent you'll be going back to savor the prose (and also) make sure you fully caught what was just revealed.
Straub's unique takes on the nature of evil and the role of demons are amusing without falling to the standard "Hollywood" treatment of the subjects. While the testimonies of the former cult members make the bulk of the story, at times the reader may wonder if Lee Harwell wasn't AS affected by that night in the meadow as his friends were (in one section, Harwell begins to doubt his wife's fidelity, leading him to a personal investigation that ends up stengthening their realtionship, hence adding to the power of the finale).
A DARK MATTER is a psychological horror story that disects faith and friendship, and looks at what may or may not be man's secret fears brought to as close of an understanding as these characters deem possible. As a fan of the author since reading GHOST STORY in 1980 (when I was 12 years old), I can say Straub's pen hasn't been this sharp since his 1999 epic, MR. X.
Don't miss this.