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In the Night Room


In the Night Room

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