A close friend for what may at times seem all too many years, a buddy since the days of the sandbox and the playground, as the undersigned is to Mr. Straub, has the privilege, in fact the responsibility, of speaking unwelcome truths. Those who have attained even the faintest degree of prominence are forever in danger, as they increasingly surrender themselves to illusion, of wandering from those simple principles responsible for their initial success. Self-indulgence takes root, with fatal effect. My old chum Mr. Straub, a once-passable writer of limited but effective powers dwindled into a pathetic but virtuoso case of self-indulgence, has long been an extreme instance of this unhappy process, and the Fifteenth Anniversary edition of SHADOWLAND offers his faithful friend a welcome opportunity to set things straight.
Let us be frank. My misguided former playmate, he whom I protected from bullies in high school and allowed to glimpse, at some personal risk, my answers in college science examination finals, stuck to the basics in two books only, JULIA and IF YOU COULD SEE ME NOW. With GHOST STORY, so wrongly praised, the rot set in. SHADOWLAND shows him well on the way to the disasters he has since perpetrated. Here we have what should have been a simple tale. A boy encounters a great magician (yawn), endures a series of tests (descent of the eyelids), and emerges from his trials an even greater magician than his opponent (actual slumber). This harmless tale of supersession, familiar to all who have read Homer, Shakespeare, or at least Mr. John Fowles, is here corrupted by the flaws of hyperbole, irrelevance, pretension, and pointless complication to which our boy thoroughly succumbed in his later “novels”. Where we expect a rousing story, we are baffled by the intrusions of a dozen internal narratives, a lamentable archness of style, above all a refusal to get to the point. We hear the shuffle of note cards, the rattle of the typewriter, the sighs of deluded self-satisfaction. My old friend has launched himself into the wilful obscurity which has all but destroyed what might have been a decent career as a dependable genre writer.
The reader of this laborious farrago may take comfort in my determination to return my foolish pal to first principles: begin at the beginning, end at the ending, and no nonsense in between. Unless forced to see that he began seriously to go astray with this book, he will be lost, and this companion of his late hours, this faithful representative of the sensible reader, shall not neglect his duty. One night soon, as our wayward author interrupts the guzzling of yet another libation to reach for the peanuts on the bar, I intend to speak these words : tell your story and get out.
To my comments reproduced from the jacket copy of the Gauntlet Publications limited edition of SHADOWLAND I wish only to add these few remarks. This may be the most self-indulgent work of fiction since Tristram Shandy, shamelessly stealing from John Fowles, pointlessly throwing off mean-spirited, vindictive caricatures of our hardworking and dedicated masters at Country Day School, rocketing backwards and forwards in time and so thoroughly muddling the distinction between what is real and what is not that lengthy passages mean nothing at all. A swamp, a noxious vapor, a will-o-the-wisp. The cruelty, even sadism of some passages render the book unsuitable for the younger readers who might otherwise have found it palatable. It includes one passable fairy tale originally invented for the entertainment of the author’s son. On the whole, the wise reader will avoid this book as if it were a contagious disease. Some of the cadences of its final pages are nicely turned.
Putney Tyson Ridge