In the Night Room
by Peter Straub
Review by Steve Sawicki
Random House Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 1400062527
Date: 26 October, 2004 List Price $21.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
It took me a while to figure out what Straub was doing. Certain authors, Straub, Bradbury, Koontz, are such gifted writers that they attempt, and often succeed at, things most other writers would avoid. In this case Straub is writing a book about a woman who's a writer but who's also a character in a book being written by Straub's protagonist. It gets further complicated when Straub and his protagonist have written books with the same titles. This is a multi-layered presentation that you get one small piece at a time. Somewhere around page 125 it all comes together and you understand just what Straub is attempting here. Attempt is probably a bad word choice since Straub succeeds with this story within the story affected by the story plot chain.
Timothy Underhill is writing another book and is struggling a bit. He's also seeing the ghost of his dead sister who died when he was 10. To make matters worse, Underhill is being stalked by an apparent fan who seems to change in age with each meeting. Oh yeah, he's also getting emails from dead classmates. Willy Patrick is also writing a book and trying to put her life back together after the death of her husband and daughter. The problem is she never had a daughter and her current fiancee is the one who apparently had her husband killed.
There's also the issue of true books. These are books perfectly written. Not the books that writers actually produce but books that the writers would have produced if everything had been perfect. These books somehow manage to leak into our world and there are collectors who seek them out. But the books aren't the only things that leak which brings us back to Underhill and Patrick. Patrick is one of Underhill's characters who leaks through one day during a reading he's giving at a bookstore. Turns out the stalking fan is another character, albeit one with darker intent, as well. At the bottom of everything is a trauma which occurred in a house in the town that Underhill grew up in.
This may all seem convoluted, and it no doubt is, but Straub manages to make it all work in a fairly straightforward fashion. The book is exceedingly well written with darn near perfect plotting and characterization that almost doubles for biography.