By Scottie Andrew, CNN
Peter Straub, an author who helped usher in our decades-long fascination with horror fiction, had a way of weaving macabre, harrowing prose into a single sentence. Even tales of ghostly hauntings, sinister parallel universes, or grisly murders could feel mournful, sensitive, and cathartic in Straub’s hands.
From his seminal 1979 novel, “Ghost Story”: “No one can protect anyone else from evil. Or from pain. All you can do is not let it break you into two and keep going until you get to the other side.
Influencer and friend to authors like Stephen King, Joe Hill, Neil Gaiman and many more, Straub left an indelible mark on the world of horror and fantasy fiction, helping to elevate it from ignored pulp to a kind of consequence and depth.
Straub died Sunday at age 79, his daughter, author Emma Straub, confirmed on social media. His wife, Susan, told The New York Times that he died of a broken hip.
Straub turned childhood trauma into a famous horror career
Born in Wisconsin, Straub’s childhood was turned upside down by a traumatic event in first grade: he was hit by a car (referred to as a “classic near-death experience” on his website), an incident that left in nightmares for almost three years. decades of his life – until he started writing horror novels.
“I was much less of a child than I was before,” he said of the accident in a 2016 interview with Salon. “Once I understood the consequences, I was much more able to deal with them. It also meant that I had this material available for conscious thematic use.
After releasing two novels to little fanfare, Straub made his first foray into the supernatural with 1975’s “Julia,” which follows a grieving woman haunted by the specter of a child who may or may not be hers. His breakthrough, however, came with “Ghost Story,” a story of four old men who trade ghost stories until they suspect they themselves are haunted. These two books were later adapted into films.
“Ghost Story” earned Straub a lifelong admirer – and occasional collaborator – of King, who by then had published books like “Carrie” and “The Shining.” (Their output helped cement genre fiction as a legitimate art form.) The two collaborated on the 1984 fantasy epic “The Talisman,” which followed a boy attempting to save his mother’s life while while navigating a dangerous parallel universe, and again for its 2001 sequel.
King, reacting to the news of Straub’s death, called their collaborations “one of the great joys of (his) creative life”.
Straub used his writing not just as a vehicle for his childhood trauma, but as a way to explore the more painful elements of life. In his work he has explored childhood bullying, loss of a family member, abuse, and suicide, among other themes.
“There’s a lot of things that I think people in general prefer to get away from that I just can’t get away from, temperamentally, because I don’t think we have the whole world in mind. or in sight unless we include those things as well,” he told Salon. “Those kinds of things are of immense importance in allowing us to see what is good manner.”
Straub continued to write throughout his life, from 1988’s Vietnam War-inspired “Koko” to the 2016 short story collection “Interior Darkness.” He resisted calling his work exclusively horrifying – there were macabre and supernatural elements, yes, but he found them to be as complex as life: “Honestly, to me, all of these stories seem like accurate depictions of the real life. “, he wrote on his website.
Straub was loved by his fellow authors
Horror aside, Straub had a thriving personal life: He met his wife, Susan, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison after saving her from a rogue bee, and the two bibliophiles immediately connected. . Susan Straub created the long-running “Read to Me” literacy program, which encouraged mothers to read to their young children. The couple themselves had two children, Ben and Emma.
Straub was a lifelong jazz music lover and expert – in the “Peter Straub Recommends” section of his website, many of the albums he lists are jazz. (The admiration between the musicians and Straub was mutual: Indie legend Nick Cave drew inspiration from Straub’s work for several songs.) He also moonlighted briefly as a soap opera actor, appearing in several episodes of “One Life to Live” as a former police officer. detective.
His daughter recently released “This Time Tomorrow,” a fiction loosely based on the months she spent at Straub in 2020 when he was hospitalized with heart problems. In his book, a woman visiting her sick father in the hospital suddenly travels back in time to his 16th birthday and reunites with the younger, more playful version of her father.
“This book, and our understanding of each other, meant that when he died, I had no doubt that he knew how grateful I was to be his, and vice versa,” said Emma Straub . wrote on Twitter after his father’s death.
Other horror writers remembered Peter Straub as a friend as kind as he was talented: Joe Hill, author and son of King, called him “the most incredibly sweet man with kids” and a “great f*****g writer”. Neil Gaiman also praised his writing and reminded At one point, Straub, one of the “best friends (he’s) ever known”, performed the difficult crow yoga pose in a Wisconsin men’s restroom “because he was fearless and proud of his yoga.
Straub shared deep thoughts on loss and grief through the lens of horror fiction in a 2016 interview with Publisher’s Weekly.
“Loss happens to all of us; loss is half the human story,” he told the publication. “Most of the time we experience moments of joy and transcendence seconds after they have already begun to fade, and our knowledge of these exalted states consists largely of their existence being retained in memory. Adult human beings live with the certainty of grief, which deepens us and opens us up to other people, who have been there too.
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