A Dark Matter

by

Author: Peter Straub

Title:  A Dark Matter

Genre: Horror

Publication Date: February 9, 2010

Number of Pages:  Audio Edition (I-Pod) 12 parts; 14 hours 33 minutes

Narrator: Robertson Dean

Geographical Setting: Madison, WI and Chicago, IL

Time Period:  1966 and present day

Series (If applicable): A companion work called The Skylark told from the point of view of Spenser Mallon.

Plot Summary: Four High School students fall under the spell of a charismatic wandering guru, Spenser Mallon, and join him in performing a spiritual ritual in the agronomy meadow of the University of Wisconsin.  During this ceremony something supernatural happens, the participants see things and feel things that are indescribable.  The ritual also leaves one kid dead.  That was in 1966.   Several decades later, Lee Harwell is searching for answers as to what happened that fateful day in the meadow.  He was not involved in the ritual, but his three friends were, along with the woman who would become his wife, Lee Traux (The Eel).  Lee Harwell attempts to track down his old friends, Don Olsen (Dilly), Howard Bly (Hootie) and Jason Boatman (Boats), and in doing so each recounts their experience in the meadow, offering many different versions of the same event.  All involved in the ill-fated event were greatly affected in some way or another.  A Dark Matter is a creepy, psychologically suspenseful story that will leave the reader wondering what really happened in the meadow until the last page.

Subject Headings: The sixties; occult ceremonies; supernatural rites, teenagers, good vs. evil; psychic trauma; Bram Stoker Award Winners

Appeal: character-centered, intricately plotted, relaxed pace, bleak, creepy, psychological, supernatural, complex storyline, literary prose, multiple points of view, detailed, foreboding

3 appeal terms that best describe this book: character-centered, psychological, foreboding

Similar Authors and Works (why are they similar?):

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:

1)     Helter Skelter: the True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi – Bugliosi was the prosecuting attorney in the Charles Manson murder trial.  His position as an insider has allowed him to give a unique perspective on one of the most notorious killers in American history. Charles Manson was a charismatic “cult” leader.  He lured both men and women into this “family” and he had a baffling hold on his followers.  In 1969 Manson and 4 of his followers carried out several murders of seemingly random victims.  It continues to be one of the most famous crimes and trials in American History.  Chosen as a non-fiction read-alike for A Dark Matter because the charismatic wandering guru Spencer Mallon is similar to Mason, luring young people in with his ideas and personality.

2)     The Tibetan Book of the Dead by Padma Sambhava and translated by Robert Thurman – Said to have been written in the 8th century A.D. by Padma Sambhava who is also said to have been the first person to bring Buddhism to Tibet.  The book is a guide for the dead to guide them through the stages the will encounter between death and their rebirth.  Basically the soul needs guidance once it leaves the physical body and this book is a guide.  It contains prayers and ways the living can assist the dead.  In A Dark Matter the Tibetan Book of the Dead is mentioned on several occasions by the guru Spencer Mallon, so perhaps readers of the novel would enjoy this non-fiction work to learn more.

3)     The New Encyclopedia of the Occult by John Michael Greer – John Michael Greer is an “occult practitioner” who consulted scholarly text in order to write a well researched, informative encyclopedia of occult traditions, lore, etc.  Included are 1500 entries listed in alphabetical order and include spiritual movements, magic, alchemy, and astrology.  Chosen as a read-alike for A Dark Matter because the ceremony the teenagers and guru perform in the meadow is an occult ceremony and readers of the novel may appreciate learning more about the occult and all of its aspects.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

1)     I’ll Take You There by Joyce Carol Oates – A nameless white girl at a fictional college falls for an African-American grad student in this character-centered work set in the 1960’s.  There is, of course, the racial tension one would expect from an inter-racial relationship at the time.  Along with the social backlash, the girl is also haunted by the fact that someone she once thought was dead is actually alive.  Similar to A Dark Matter in that it is set in the 1960’s and involves college students.  (creepy, psychological suspense, character-centered)

2)     The Revelation by Bentley Little – This creepy story in a small town in Arizona, where events seemingly signal a looming apocalypse.  The church is desecrated, animals are being sacrificed and people are disappearing.  A new Episcopal Priest comes to town and enlists the help of three others as he believes only the four of them can save the town from the evil.  Similar to A Dark Matter this novel has supernatural elements and an underlying theme of good versus evil. (creepy, menacing, supernatural)

3)     Hearts in Atlantis by Stephen King – A collection of five short stories that are linked to each other and revolve around events that occurred in the 1960’s.  The Vietnam War is at the forefront of the creepy tales that include some supernatural elements, which makes this story similar to A Dark Matter.  Other similarities include a 1960’s setting and having interweaving stories told by several individuals. (creepy, suspenseful, character-centered)

Name: Michelle Worthington

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