by Dean Patrick
Mr. Peter Straub’s death this past Sunday, September 4th, 2022, has a certain timely ring to it as the Haunted Season is now in its infancy. His wife, Susan Straub, said he died from complications after he broke his hip.
Straub was the master of the ghost story. His novel, Ghost Story, is the best in the genre. Period. And rather than go over what’s already been said about the author, I thought to focus a bit in this entry on his masterpiece.
The novel is the dreadful tale of the remaining members of The Chowder Society, a group of four men who meet annually to tell each other ghost stories. And I use the word “dreadful” purely to honor Straub in what I find to be the most terrifying opening of any horror novel.
“What was the worst thing you’ve ever done?”
“I won’t tell you that, but I’ll tell you the worst thing that ever happened to me…the most dreadful thing…” Ghost Story (1979)
From that deeply chilling intro, Straub creates a harrowing story where the memories of a woman the men all knew 50 years ago is a mesmerizing and terrifying woman they all loved. A woman they thought they’d killed by accident known as Eva Galli, where one night soon after Black Tuesday when the stock market crashed, Eva comes to visit the men. To belittle them. To seduce them to the point where a struggle takes place and she ends up dead.
There is another woman in the novel just as haunting. Even more so. A strange and even sinister woman who had drug dealing friends, and even friends who hung around Charles Manson’s “Family.” She’s Alma Mobley. Who is Alma is the main question. Some believe she’s a shapeshifter, some believe she’s Eva Galli herself. And there lies the fun as Straub terrorizes us with ghost stories in the novel that are presented as disturbing hauntings that begin when a fifth member of the The Chowder Society dies in mystery at a party one night. And ever since that fateful night, the remaining members are tormented endlessly with nightmares. It is their annual meeting and their tales of ghosts that become the needed therapy.
Ghost Story’s greatest strength is in the haunting itself. Hauntings of failure, of regret, of betrayal. Turning those hauntings into the real deal where all the greatest horror always takes place.
Straub was a master at it. May he Rest In Peace, and may his tales of the dreadful long live to scare us to hell and back.