Review

In the Night Room

by Peter Straub



Peter Straub’s writing of late has become progressively
better. There is a reason for this. Straub doesn’t break the
rules of novel writing so much as he finds new uses for them.
I’m reminded sometimes of the brilliant comedian Jonathan
Winters when reading Straub. Winters, when a guest on a talk show,
would be handed an inanimate object --- a stick, a hat --- and
found a number of different uses for it, none of which bore the
faintest resemblance to the object’s familiar purpose. Straub
does much the same thing with the conventional novel. He explores
corners and crannies that most writers ignore or don’t even
know exist --- and takes this practice to new levels with IN THE
NIGHT ROOM.

The premise begins straightforwardly enough. The chapters initially
alternate between the lives of two individuals. Tim Underhill, whom
we met in Straub’s novel of last year, LOST BOY LOST GIRL, is
on the cusp of publishing his new novel which is titled LOST BOY
LOST GIRL, but is having trouble writing it. His problems are
compounded when, while having breakfast at a diner, he sees his
older sister, deceased lo these many years, waving to him from
across the street, trying to tell him something. Underhill also is
being harassed by the book collector from hell (and I’m not
engaging in hyperbole here) and receiving cryptic e-mails that
appear to be from past acquaintances of his who have recently
died.

Willy Patrick, meanwhile, is having her own difficulties. She
appears to be emotionally recovered from the violent murders of her
husband and daughter, and is engaged to a wealthy, controlling and
protective man who is quite secretive regarding his occupation. She
is also an award-winning author of children’s books, the
latest of which is titled IN THE NIGHT ROOM. Patrick, however, is
deeply troubled. The most obvious manifestation of this is her
belief that her deceased daughter is in fact alive and being held
hostage in an abandoned warehouse.

As IN THE NIGHT ROOM proceeds along its twin tracks, we see that
Underhill and Patrick seem to have quite a bit in common. Indeed,
when they finally meet, they seem to know each other immediately,
and intimately. Underhill in fact knows as much about Patrick as
Patrick knows about herself. How can this be? The answer lies in
Underhill’s hometown, where LOST BOY LOST GIRL took place.
The oddly matched couple begins a fateful journey, the end of which
will mark the end of one of them and a beginning for the
other.

So what are we to make of this enigmatic novel? It is, in its way,
a sequel to last year’s LOST BOY LOST GIRL. Or maybe a
rewrite of it to get the story right this time, as Straub’s
Tim Underhill is chastened to do throughout. Or perhaps it is that
novel from another viewpoint. It is beautifully and, maybe even
more importantly, believably written. It also has the effect of
chipping away that already tenuous wall between fantasy and
reality, letting light, sound and sight leak into and out of both
sides. The result will leave you puzzled, entertained, maybe a bit
angry --- and thinking. And that, I would submit, makes this work
worthwhile.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

In the Night Room
by Peter Straub

  • Publication Date: October 26, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Random House
  • ISBN-10: 1400062527
  • ISBN-13: 9781400062522