The full range of Peter Straub’s talents is on display in “Interior Darkness: Selected Stories.” Straub, who is most often characterized as a horror writer, demonstrates the flexibility and fluidity of that label in stories ranging from less than a page in length to hefty novellas. Whether the horror is human in origin or supernatural, wholly serious or satirical, Straub clearly isn’t afraid to chase the darkness wherever his imagination leads.
“Mr. Clubb and Mr. Cuff” is a highlight of this substantial and varied collection. The story is an explicit nod to Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” but instead of featuring an employee who would prefer not to pursue his work, Straub’s titular characters cannot be prevented from pursuing theirs. That work — torture and mutilation — is presented on the page in some detail, with only the masterfully maintained tone of the story standing between the reader and the full extent of the horror on display.
While the book identifies where each of the 16 stories was originally published, with 13 coming from previous Straub collections and three collected here for the first time, “Interior Darkness” would benefit from some additional text designed to provide context for the stories.
For example, the first and third story in the book, “Blue Rose” and “The Juniper Tree,” are related to three of Straub’s novels known as the “Blue Rose Trilogy.” There are two additional stories related to these works that aren’t included in “Interior Darkness.” Without any explanatory text, the reader cannot see the connections between the two stories in the book nor to the wider scope of Straub’s vision for these characters.
That said, each of the stories in “Interior Darkness” certainly stands on its own, giving readers many a dark corridor to explore.