"Interior Darkness" (Doubleday), by Peter Straub
If the only mass-market horror writer you've ever read is Stephen King, you owe it to yourself to check out Peter Straub.
His latest book, "Interior Darkness," compiles the best of his previously published short stories and adds three new ones.
The collection's title is apt. Straub has created some truly creepy characters here, all haunted by demons of some sort.
The best of the new works is "The Ballad of Ballard and Sandrine," a tale of a kinky couple who explore their fantasies over the years while living among cannibals on the Amazon River.
This being a collection, it does sometimes feel uneven. The stories span 25 years in Straub's career. He likes to experiment with writing styles and readers may have to pause and think more than they do with pulpier fare. "Little Red's Tango," for example, is written like a faux gospel, with lists of "Beatitudes" attributed to the title character.
But the more straightforward narratives in the collection — like "Blue Rose" and "Mr. Clubb and Mr. Cuff" — reveal Straub's gift for illuminating the darkness in everyone — from a cruel child who hypnotizes his brother to a spurned financier who plots to punish his wife.
The horror here is both real and supernatural. For every boy serially molested in a movie theater ("The Juniper Tree") there's a man who makes a blanket out of baby bottles and loses his soul inside of books ("Going Home").
All in all, it's not a collection anyone is going to read in one sitting. These stories take a while to work on you. Reflection and rereading is sometimes necessary. But nobody said art is always easy and readers who invest in this collection will feel more rewarded than not.