From time to time, and not always, as the forgiving “fan” or admirer might suppose, in that expansively self-pitying condition any over-praised, over-indulged, largely unconscious scribe might be expected to attain late in the evening after the popping of many a cork and the dissolution of many an ice cube into the rich amber of the next-to-the-next-to-the-next-to-the last nightcap, my companion of old has taken the floor, seized the microphone and delivered to his devoted audience of one a lengthy diatribe centered upon the unreasonable demands made on his time and attention by those pushy editors of ridiculous anthologies (the editors are always “pushy,” their anthologies ever “ridiculous”) who daily, maybe even several times daily, write, telephone, fax or e-mail their urgent and heartfelt wishes that he submit a story for inclusion in their ridiculousnesses. These are invariably contemptible assemblages of tales devoted to themes and subjects- such as “Erotic but not overwhelmingly Perverse and if possible not Sadistic Relationships involving ‘Vampirism,” “the Other Women in the life of Jack the Ripper,” ” the Graves of the Great Psychic Detectives,” ” Zombies in the Sewers of Joyce’s Dublin,” “the Chilling Fantasies Enjoyed by Your Favorite Serial Killer – and We All Have One! – During the Act of Masturbation,” and the like.
“Why, Put,” he asks, employing his forgiving auditor’s childish nickname, “if you can tell me, and I don’t suppose you can, didn’t these fools bother me for their silly stories when I could have used the money? Why do they only come sniffing around now, begging for scraps like ragged tinker children, when they must know that I have long since ascended far above their grubby realm? And why should I squander entire minutes of my precious time when I should be refining an extending my ever-more-refined-and-expanding art, in the writing of polite but laborious notes justifying to these pushy nonentities my decision not to ennoble their ridiculous anthologies?”
To the first of these questions, I could, but do not, reply, Because the fools in question were still unborn; to the second, Because they thankfully have not recognized your massive narcissism; and to the third, Because no matter how bloated with self-importance you may be, you are still supposed to conduct yourself in a polite and civilized manner.
Despite his endless Whining, Peter has at least now and again stirred himself to oblige some few of these despised supplicants with the stories they desired of him, and HOUSES WITHOUT DOORS, which comes complete with an insufferably pretentious epigraph and an “Author’s Note” stained with the deepest self-regard, represents his attempt to wring a bit more hard cash from the resulting efforts. None of the pieces are even third-rate Straub, least of all the gnomic “Interludes” with which he evidently wishes to unify his rag-bag, thereby elevating it above the general run of collections. Some of the stories here reveal the neurotic disposition in full bloom, gleefully exhibiting its symptomology while trampling all over more mature points of view. In most, that childish cliche(, the “tortured Artist,” hogs center stage. An undigested mysticism pervades all, many times with hilarious and completely unintentional results. (See, for example, that virtual case study, THE BUFFALO HUNTER. On second thought, don’t.) The worst story in this awful book, THE JUNIPER TREE, condenses every one of its author’s shortcomings into forty-odd almost enjoyably psychotic pages.
Putney Tyson Ridge