Monday, August 11, 2014

A Look At Peter Straub's JULIA [1975]

Alright, folks. It's gonna be a quick one today -- I want to finish "Dolan's Cadillac" before this evening (yes, I know it's only a short story, thus it shouldn't be taking me this long to read -- I've been busy, okay?) and hopefully write about it tonight, too. Will I do it? Who knows. But I'm shooting for a "definitely maybe."

Like I said in another entry, I haven't been reading King's work as much as I used to. That's not a dig at my favorite author or anything; I've just been branching out, which isn't ever a bad thing. I've been reading some Koontz and Dekker, King's sons' and wife's books, and even some by a guy named Peter Straub. That name might be familiar to King fans -- Peter and Stephen collaborated on The Talisman and Black House. I was never really interested in Straub's writing until I read The Talisman and was blown away by the stuff that felt rather un-King-like. It was different . . . but good. I was intrigued. I began working my way through his books, starting with 1979's Ghost Story (phenomenal book -- one I can't say enough good things about), and then I made my way backward with 1977's If You Could See Me Now and 1975's Julia. The latter is the farthest I've gotten in reading Straub's stuff, and it's the one I'm here today to talk about. It's a rather slight novel, but it's good.

This is my new favorite book cover of all-time. Yep. 

Julia is divided up into four parts: "The Haunting: Julia", "The Search:  Heather", "The Closing: Olivia", and "November," which acts as an epilogue. In The Haunting, we are introduced to Julia Lofting, a woman who is on the run from her abusive husband, Magnus, and buys a large house for herself to escape from the memories of her late daughter, Kate. Soon after, we are introduced to the tight band of characters: Magnus, Julia's "big man" of a husband who is searching for her; Mark, devilishly handsome step-brother of Magnus; and Lily, distrusting older sister of Magnus and to whom Julia's husband feels closest. The story revolves around these three and Julia, as well as the malevolent spirit that haunts Julia's new home. After a séance is held at her house and a creepy death or two, Julia realizes her house is haunted, and the spirits aren't happy -- especially with her terrible decorating ideas. (Just kidding. Julia just keeps the former owners' furniture, so she's not to blame for the terrible decorating ideas.) 

The lady who led the séance tells Julia she saw a man and girl, so naturally, Julia concludes it's Magnus and her dead daughter, nine-year-old Kate. Adding to the creep factor is the fact that said lady is found dead the next day. In "The Search: Heather", we, along with Julia, discover the girl who was "seen" is not Kate, but Olivia, daughter of famous party girl, Heather Ridge, who used to live in Julia's home years and years previous. Olivia, coincidentally enough, was killed the same way Kate was -- by stabbing. The plot thickens. 

I must say I really enjoyed how Julia researched Heather and her daughter: by looking through old newspapers, which reminded me of Jack Torrance's meticulous research of the Overlook Hotel in King's The Shining. I know the two books aren't related whatsoever, but I still thought it was cool. I'm weird that way. 

So . . . why is Olivia haunting Julia? Why is she writing on mirrors in soap and breaking furniture and laughing in dark hallways? (Yeah, this novel can get pretty creepy.) Or is Julia being haunted at all? She was in a mental istitution for a time after her daughter's death, and her tottering sanity is hinted at more than once. Or maybe it's Magnus trying to drive her insane, make her come crawling back to him. I'm rather hesitant to give anything away because it . . . well, it's a major plot point. So I'm going to keep my mouth shut. If you're curious about this book at all, check it out. It can be found for pretty cheap online.

All in all, I thought this novel was a good way to spend my time. I feel like it could have been longer (I wish Mark's character could have been fleshed out more, for one thing), and some of the pacing felt a little off to me. However, one must keep in mind that this was only Peter Straub's third novel -- second published -- and it was his first foray into the supernatural/horror world. Considering that, this is a pretty good book. There were plenty of scares to be had, the characters of Julia, Lily, and Magnus were all written really well, and the story was believable. It's cold, distant, and unmistakably British -- and I liked it. While Straub definitely improved with his next book, don't hesitate to buy this one. You'll never look at dolls the same way again. 

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