Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: A Short Guide to the City" Peter Straub

This story begins by reporting the deaths of six women by a person known as the Viaduct Killer,
the place where the victims were found. But then Peter Straub launches into what appears to be the description of a city, one that might appear in a travel book. 

At first it seems like an ordinary Midwestern city with the typical harsh winters, a vaguely incompetent mayor, the usual distribution of housing, classes, schools, political parties. But gradually we descend into a much more ominous landscape where feral children roam, where ethnic groups clash, where wolves, raised for unknown reasons, by one generation, still exist.  More and more we find traditions, creatures, habits that seem frightening or fantastical. There is a unfinished bridge that no seems to find unusual.

Straub's descriptions are so well done, alternating the real with the surreal that we willingly follow him along. The story succeeds on the evocation of an atmosphere rather than any specific plot. The horror is  palpable if somewhat vague.

In an interview Straub says that he wanted to take his native city of Milwaukee, and exaggerate its weaknesses to the point of horror. 

You can find this story right here.

 George Kelley


 Jerry House

Steve Lewis 

Kevin Tipple


Margot Kinberg said...

It does sound like an eerie story, Patti. Normally, I don't go for the 'serial killer' theme in my stories unless it's very, very well done. But the atmosphere in this one sounds really evocative.

Jeff Meyerson said...

First, don't know how but every week I am surprised it is Wednesday again. I've read some Straub, liked GHOST STORY quite a bit, and I think I've read at least one of his story collections.

I am still reading almost exclusively short stories and non fiction. I finished the two previous collections I was reading, now reading individual author collections - Ron Goulart, What's Become of Screwloose? and Other Stories (1971), futuristic stories, reviewed recently by George Kelley. It is certainly readable, but nothing more than a time filler for the most part. The other is much more consequential, Phil Klay's Redeployment (2014). The Marines in the stories, like Klay, served in Iraq (he was there in 2007-08), and the stories are set there and back home after deployment, and cover how they deal with having to kill someone, or seeing a friend injured or killed, plus readjusting to your family when you get home. To me, it isn't on a level with Tim O'Brien's Vietnam book THE THINGS THEY CARRIED, but it is certainly worth reading.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have been meaning to read the Klay book.
It really isn't about the killings but instead perhaps the climate that allows them?

George said...

Glad you got your Covid-19 shot! Diane and I felt a sense of relief when we got ours. The next shot is just a couple weeks away for us.

I've read Peter Straub's horror novels and enjoyed them. I'll have to track down this short story. Sounds good!

Jeff Meyerson said...

I just picked up the Richard Bausch collection (SOMETHING IS OUT THERE) at the library, shortage of things to read.

TracyK said...

I did read the story; I have always avoided horror stories but this one was very good, very readable. The author pulls you in.

I also read the Joyce Carol Oates story there. I did not understand that one at all.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Will have to check that out, Tracy.

Todd Mason said...

Joyce Carol Oates: "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"--a matter of recent concern here!

Basically, (spoiler) she's trading her life, consciously, for her family's lives. Making a choice in the face of very little choice. There are other factors at play, but that's the first most A-plot thrust.

Todd Mason said...

The Straub story first appeared in his collection HOUSES WITHOUT DOORS. Dutton 1990.

Todd Mason said...

Start reading Goulart short fiction with the collection of Max Kearney stories, GHOST BREAKER...if you can find it. For all that they're comic, the Kearney fiction has a greater heft to it than nearly all of Goulart's other short fiction...more of a sense of life. It also draws more thoroughly on his own experience.