Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr Forget all the stuff that they’ll tell you about Peter Straub’s ability to blend genres, ‘cause it doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that the man can write. He’s a natural storyteller who’s on par with his old chum and sometime collaborator Stephen King. But a lot of other cats too. And he proves it in Interior Darkness, a collection that brings together stories that appeared in collections such as Houses Without Doors and 5 Stories as well an anthology or two edited by pals such as Neil Gaiman. The short story isn’t dead, of course, but Straub writes a particular kind of short story that’s too rarely seen these days. His fiction requires patience on the part of the reader. Seemingly ordinary details unfold slowly on the page, stacking up one after the other until the reader begins to slowly piece together their significance and puzzle out the inevitable conclusion. It’s a kind of story that doesn’t have middle class pretensions, although it’s also the kind of story that can be read by the middle class; it’s the kind of story that can be read by readers of varying levels of experience although the experienced reader will enjoy it as much as the novice. But there’s an unsettling peculiarity to these stories, too, a patina of unrest and (appropriately enough) a darkness that often lurks just beneath the surface the way it does in real life. These are largely stories about people who might as well live across the street or around the corner save for one or two details that would and should set them far, far apart from the rest of us. Or at least we’d hope. “Blue Rose” has all the trappings of classical storytelling: conflict between siblings, a struggle for power, deceit and hope for something that is utterly different if not necessarily better. Straub’s ability to propel the reader through the darkened story is uncanny and as we read the most horrific details of the story we aren’t sure whether we’re repulsed or in some measure relieved that the story has taken the turns that it has. Straub follows this lengthy short story with a prose poem (“In the Realm of Dreams”) and then follows that with another lengthy and equally harrowing story, “The Juniper Tree.” It’s the story of a young boy and an older man, about perversion, about memory and the invention of memory and about the creation of identity. Once more, we find ourselves turning the pages with incredulity as Straub weaves the story for us in a voice and style that both prove unforgettable. Straub also enters the realm of jazz with “Pork Pie Hat,” a story that doesn’t disappoint those hoping for a bout of lyricism that is remarkably consistent with Straub’s larger vision. Straub’s mastery of atmosphere and character are everything you’d hope them to be, buoying the reader far beyond the confines of the expected. Along the way there’s room for the darkly humorous, such as “Mr. Clubb and Mr. Cuff,” in which a lawyer procures the services of a private detective in order to exact revenge on an unfaithful wife. There’s also “Going Home,” another story about the invention of identity, the fashion in which we create the selves we want others to see until we lose sight of ourselves and our intentions. It’s a difficult story to pull off as the main character is obsessed with baby bottles and building a fortress of lies. When he catches glimpses of reality (or what he thinks is reality) the difference is dizzying and exhilarating for the reader as we try to figure out what will happen next. Much of what Straub does here (and elsewhere) is probably not the stuff that makes your eyes pop. Although his prose is well-rendered and highly readable, he’s not the kind of stylist that distracts with technique. His stories, as mentioned, aren’t always about things so extraordinary that we chase our own tails down a bottomless hole of unanswerable questions. Instead, what he gives us is art rendered in such an accessible way that we can’t help returning, as it allows us to slip deep inside the stories Straub so carefully crafts for us. Unsurprisingly there’s not a bum note in the collection, though each of us will undoubtedly find some stories we like better than others. What is undeniable is that each of the stories contains plenty of the author’s characteristic wit, his ability to peel away our sense of reality and exchange it for something that eradicates the boundaries between the known and the merely imaginable. And these are the stories where Straub does those things the best, in pages that the reader never wants to stop turning because we must discover what’s going to happen next.