The author of this volume recently confided to the undersigned, a buddy tactfully alert to overstatement, hyperbole, pretention, sentimentality, semi-mystical incoherence, and self-justification, that the title with which P.S. has afflicted his latest offering has nothing to do with necks, knives and wounds.
“It’s not this,” insisted Mr. Straub, drawing a forefinger across his well-padded neck. Apparently, he wishes us to overlook the frequent slittings, stabbings, mutilations, (six, by my count, not including the depredations of the post-modernist parody of his fellow Milwaukeen, Jeffrey Dahmer) in the present work. Of course any such suggestion is absurd — THE THROAT is the slit neck, whatever the claims of its author. Despite protests to the contrary, Mr. Straub remains the special case of elevated theory and low practice so familiar to his readers.
How, then, does my friend justify his charmless title?
Firstly, this work has ingested KOKO and MYSTERY, the two installments of his so-called “Blue Rose Trilogy“. In that case, why not call the book THE STOMACH?
Secondly, Mr. Straub claims that he intends to refer to song, limitlessness of expression, the melody-crammed throat of a saxophone, such as that manipulated by his character, Glenroy Breakstone. This evasion we can dismiss out of hand. A book is not, nor ever will be, a saxophone. (Confusion of realms is typical of Straub. Instances may be found, pandemically, throughout THE THROAT.)
Finally, my old chum asserts that he refers to the utterance of supressed, unsayable speech. Pity must be the most generous response to this oxymoron.
I prescribe frequent rereadings of simple, honest artisans such as Stephen King and Dean Koontz – our boy must learn to tell a story at least as well as his betters. And if he cannot learn to tell a story – from A to Z, without pointless complications – a story with clearcut heroes and villains – I intend to suggest during one of our frequent pub crawls that he take up the saxophone instead.
An addition to previous observations on THE THROAT –
To the above I should add only those few remarks forbidden by tact and ordinary good manners from inclusion in the “flap copy” of the Borderlands Press edition of this protracted and self-destructive assault in the form of an hommage upon the classic detective novel. My most honest responses would have been acceptable to neither the deluded author nor the amateurish fantasts in charge of this vanity “Press,” gentlemen so far out of touch with the conventions of trade publishing that they have yet to respond to my request for the modest honorarium of $450, a considerable bargain considering that I sweated over their copy for two full working days, revising my hard-won impressions into phrases more and more merciful.
Set aside the hideous title, disregard the typical Straubian narrative clutter. Back and forth they travel, these Tims and Toms, through yet another vicious parody of Milwaukee in blatant imitation of Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer, an ancient but never completely outgrown enthusiasm of our author. Detective fiction routinely embraces outright absurdity, so we do not object that a present-day murderer has chosen to repeat the rituals of a serial killer of long ago; that our Tims and Toms solve the old murders in process of investigating the new ones has a pleasing generic familiarity. Less acceptable but still okay is the digression into the career of Jeffrey Dahmer inspired by Peter’s affection for this creature. (In silence, I pass over the remarks in which he virtually took “credit” for the invention of Dahmer and his misdeeds.) False endings are cute, so, fine, I guess THE THROAT’s three false endings represents a tour de force of cuteness.
But…. Please…. If I may be so bold…. might go so far as to state the all-too obvious….
No humble, artless, thick-fingered, genre-bound, two-books-a-year crime-writing pit pony, a type of writer heartily disdained by Mr. Straub, would dream of so betraying both story and reader as to leave his most interesting villain deposited invisibly in the past, where he may never be seen by the reader! And no professional “hack,” to which dismissive category I am sure my starry-eyed friend assigns a good many of his colleagues, would make the fatal error of separating the first appearances of the second-most interesting villain from his final unmasking by such a great wad of pages that the average or even above-average reader cannot possibly remember the fellow.
Take a deep breath. Hold it for a count of ten. As you exhale, clear your mind of preconceptions and opinions concerning Mr. Straub and his work. Then, in the non-judgmental space you have entered, contemplate the perversity of recasting the weakest, most self-indulgent and self-consciously “literary” of Raymond Chandler’s novels, THE LONG GOOD-BYE, as a Gnostic meditation upon detective fiction. Then, taking your life in your hands, imagine trying simultaneously to incorporate into the result of this process the Vietnam/trauma/grief/extremity themes from KOKO and the “Hardy Boy” protagonist of MYSTERY once called upon to represent them, “intertextual” references to KOKO and MYSTERY as well as to texts written by several of the novel’s characters, among them a former Colonel of the Quartermaster Corps thrown in for no other reason than to parody Straub’s conception of the military prose style, a sub-theme devoted to an utterly idealized and a mythical jazz musician addicted to cocaine, a second sub-theme concerning the “Nabi” painter Paul Ranson and, it pains me to add, yet more references to undigested portions of the author’s autobiography. Finally, as if that were not enough, try to imagine doing all of this under the aegis of that evil dark star, Straub’s most fatal influence, Vladimir Nabokov.
Disheartened, I sum up: a labored, exhausted effort at an exhaustive….
No, I give up, I surrender. This is a book I could not manage to read all the way through without frequent naps, vacations, and health-giving interludes spent in the company of writers clever enough to have less, in this sense meaning more, on their minds. I detect signs of extensive cutting, but the resulting moment-to-moment clarity of style serves only to heighten the reader’s steadily intensifying unhappiness.
Putney Tyson Ridge