Synopsis: Two monstrous evils. The quiet suburban town of Hampstead is threatened by two horrors. One is natural. The hideous, unstoppable creation of man's power gone mad. The other is not natural at all. And it makes the first look like child's play.
It took me over two weeks to finish reading this novel, Peter Straub's Floating Dragon (1983), which is a total rarity for me. I'm serious, guys. I start getting really friggin antsy if a book reading rocks on for more than four or five days. Why? I dunno; it doesn't help that Floating Dragon is only the second book I've read in 2016, so if I'm wanting to reach the number of book I read last year I had better get a move on!
Reading in January is always hard for me, though. Starting back to school and work after the holidays is a drag for anyone, and I am no exception. I often find my reading takes a back-seat to classes and my ever-changing work schedule (I work at my college, and my schedule changes with each semester), so I often can only read at night or in between classes . . . and that's if I'm not hooked on a particular Netflix show (how am I just discovering Breaking Bad???) or feeling downright lazy. However, don't let any of this -- my excuses, that is -- be any indication of the quality of this novel, which turned out to be one of the finest horror novels I have ever read. Seriously.
When going into a Peter Straub novel, one must know he or she is in for a dense, heady, and challenging reading experience. A Straub book isn't one for waiting in the doctor's office or riding the bus. Straub's works are genuine works of art, totally dedicated not giving up many -- if any -- of their secrets at once. Instead, Straub often puts his reader off-balance, creating a cold and disorienting world not unlike any Stanley Kubrick film. Floating Dragon is no exception, though its similarities to the author's previous novel Ghost Story as well as Stephen King novels such as IT and 'Salem's Lot make it, perhaps, a little more accessible and warm in comparison to something like Shadowland, a book I will readily admit went totally over my head at times.
Floating Dragon is an in-depth look at a small town in Connecticut, Hampstead, which is an upscale place only a short drive from New York City. One is more likely to find coffee shops and yoga studios than drive-in theaters and McDonald's there. Long story short, it's an upper-class town for upper-class people: painters, writers, realtors, et cetera. A poisonous gas cloud has accidentally been released from a top-secret government facility in a neighboring town, and Hampstead is about to become subject to a waking nightmare . . . a nightmare that is brought on not only by the gas cloud but by a mysterious cycle of violence that occurs in the small town every 30 years or stretching back all the way to the late 1600s, when the town was established. Straub studies almost every cycle of violence in depth, which makes up a good deal of this book's length. It's all necessary and fascinating stuff, luckily, with nary a hint of word diarrhea or draggy parts.
The latest cycle, taking place in summer of 1980, begins with the murder of a few prominent women in town and quickly escalates. The cast of the novel is a fairly large one, but four main players soon come center stage and must band together to try to rid the small town of this unspeakable evil once and for all. In typical Straubian fashion, it's these four's family histories that bind them together and make them the only ones able to take on the beast, but I won't go into too much detail there as I would hate to spoil anything. Essentially, like usual, Straub studies the way the past has such major impact on the present in new and invigorating ways -- ways I've yet to see from any other author.
This is a big book. Not only in size is it big, but also in its ideas and the points it covers. Straub could have easily created three novels out of all the story-lines presented here, but he somehow pulls it all off here, making every plot point harmonize. What the end result is a totally enthralling, terrifying, and full-of-heart story that ranks up there with the best of '70s and '80s horror fiction. If you've never read Peter Straub, starting here would not be a bad place though I always recommend Ghost Story to newcomers. Once you read that, come to this one. Stay a while in Hampstead, Connecticut . . . just don't look in any mirrors, and stay away from the beaches.