Peter Straub, novelist whose depiction of the supernatural in books like Julia, ghost storyand The talisman often felt too big and too fantastical to be truly defined by the limits of the horror genre, has passed away. It comes from The New York Times, who says Straub’s wife, Susan Straub, confirmed the news and explained that he died at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York from “complications after breaking his hip.” Straub was 79 years old.
Straub was born in Milwaukee in 1943, and as a child he developed a stutter and had to relearn to walk after being hit by a car and nearly killed. He became an avid reader and studied English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (the New York Times obituary notes that he lived across from musician Steve Miller) before earning a master’s degree from Columbia University. In the 1960s he moved to Ireland with his wife to do a doctorate, but instead wrote and published his first novel, Weddings.
Straub later said he was not a fan of his first book, count Zack Handlen for The audiovisual club in 2010 that it was “full of teenage mistakes and genuine uselessness” and that he never allowed it to be reissued because of it. With his third novel, JuliaStraub began toying with the supernatural, and although he didn’t intend it as such, the book was considered a horror novel simply because it involved a ghost.
Julia was successful, and although Straub continued to gently push the horror label away, he began to use more supernatural elements in his writing (especially with books like the bestselling ghost story). The New York Times obit quotes him as saying that he wanted to take the horror genre and “take it up a bit,” not rejecting it outright, but trying to “make a little more material than it doesn’t. has been done in the recent past.” Julia was later adapted into the Mia Farrow film Julia’s Haunting (a.k.a full circle) and ghost story was later adapted into a film starring Fred Astaire.
It was around this time, in the ’70s, that Straub befriended another star writer who was helping to redefine and repopularize the horror genre: Stephen King. The king said to Time that Straub was “not only a literary writer with poetic sensibility, but he was readable”, comparing him to Philip Roth “although he wrote about fantastic things”. King and Straub collaborated on The talisman in 1984, a dark fantasy book about a boy traveling through an alternate version of our world. Although it somewhat divided reviews, the book was a huge hit (at least in part because King and Straub were arguably at the peak of their powers), and it later spawned a sequel titled black house who became a link with The dark towerStephen King’s other dark fantasy series.
A third Straub/King collaboration was always supposedly right on the cusp of happening, with Straub telling The A.V. Club that the two of them had talked about writing a third book “now and again” and would probably sit down and work it out within a few years. The third book never ended up materializing, but Stranger Things creators Matt and Ross Duffer recently signed on to develop a Talisman adaptation for Steven Spielberg (who has owned the rights since before the book was published).
Straub’s last novel, A dark matter, was published in 2010 and won a Bram Stoker Award from the Horror Writers Association. He is survived by his wife, daughter (novelist Emma Straub), son (who runs a production company to adapt his father’s work), and three grandchildren.