Friday, February 1, 2013

In the Night Room by Peter Straub (Horror Novel): Spoiler-Free Review

Synopsis: Willy Patrick suffered a mental breakdown when she lost her husband and daughter in an accident several years ago. Now recovered and engaged to a rich but mysterious man named Mitchell Faber, she begins to doubt her sanity once more. She experiences gaps in her memory and a strong feeling that her daughter is alive and kept in a warehouse. When Mitchell's house gets damaged by a fallen tree, Willy accidentally stumbles upon a photograph that sends her fleeing for her life, with Mitchell's goons hunting her down. Meanwhile, the famous writer Tim Underhill is being haunted by his sister's ghost and receives messages from dead people. Cyrax, an entity from the other side, claims that Tim has angered the spirit of a serial killer whom he wrote about in his previous book. Willy meets Tim, as if by fate, and learns the awful truth about who and what she really is.

Peter Straub horror novel In the Night Room
Book Review (no spoilers): In the Night Room is a continuation of Peter Straub's earlier book Lost Boy Lost Girl. Important points in the previous book are referenced and explained, so the reader can fully understand In The Night Room even if he has not read Lost Boy Lost Girl.

In the first half of the novel, there are two plot lines: the story of Willy Patrick and the story of Tim Underhill. The plot lines merge by the middle of the book. The two storylines are very engaging and it is hard to put down the book as the separate tales unravel.

There is a big twist in this book, and unlike other stories, the twist is not at the end but in the middle of the novel. After the revelation, though, the book loses steam.

It is interesting to straddle the blurry line between fantasy and reality, but the sympathetic heroine Willy is reduced to a whiny and annoying sidekick. All the suspense and mystery surrounding her evaporate. She becomes just an object, a pawn -- something that she surprisingly accepts easily. For someone who finds out everything about her is a mere lie, she does not seem too upset. Too bad, since between Tim's story and Willy's story, Willy's is the more engaging one.

In the second half of In the Night Room, the focus switches completely to Tim and the dead serial killer Joseph Kalendar. Things get confusing as stories about new minor characters get crammed in. Worse, the confrontation at the end is a letdown, the sacrifice almost shrug-worthy.

Another weakness of the novel is the softening of the villains. Originally, there are three main antagonists: the well-connected Mitchell Faber (and his goons and ties to an evil megacorporation), Tim's deranged stalker Jasper Kohle, and the dead serial killer Joseph Kalendar. Midway through the story, Faber and Kohle become unimportant, which sucks, because Joseph Kalendar, while sounding the most sinister (being a serial killer and a ghost and all that) is the least threatening one.

If there's one thing I like about In the Night Room, however, it is the spiritual undertones. The book addresses worlds within worlds, life after death, being god, and the existence of angels, but not in the way we've seen so many times before.

What awaits us after death is not the stereotypical heaven and hell. There is also a guardian angel in the story, but he is not the loving and caring angel we have come to expect. This angel is actually scary and contemptuous of humans. The protagonist Tim is also thrown into a god-like status, which is interesting given that Tim is a flawed human being. He falls in love with Willy even though he is gay (is it love or egoism?) and that love adds another layer to the already-tragic relationship between the two.

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