Imagine you find the remains of a shattered window on the sidewalk outside your door. One shard in particular intrigues you, a large trapezoid. It draws your eye as would a strange precious jewel. Pick it up easy, because it’s sharp. Ah, there’s your reflection, but no details. It’s not a mirror backed with reflective material, just a piece of broken glass. You should be able to see right through, say to the sidewalk you stand on. Your hand starts to tremble. Because instead of sidewalk, you see another world bound by that fragment, neither a view of the world in front of nor a reflection of the world behind you. The fragment is a portal, like the broken lens of a camera staring into part of another world. You shudder with fear and sorrow at the wrongness of it.
You might get that feeling, as I did, from Peter Straub’s Peridido: a Fragment, (Subterranean Press, 2015), a slender but dense and atmospheric excerpt from a novel that was originally written and then left to lie in 2001.
We meet Carver and his wife, Margie, as they’re climbing toward Perdido, a resort located high and deep in the rugged mountains of Norway. The vacation was suggested to them by a periodontal friend of Carver’s, Silsbee, a man whom Margie despises. Perdido, he promises, is a resort like no other, “a place for people who don’t mind the unexpected.” The idea sounds intriguing to Carver, but almost revolting to Margie.
But as they reach their destination and start their long climb up the mountain, their attitudes toward their strange vacation reverse as Margie almost flies up the mountainside, leaving her husband behind. Their vacation has just begun. And a traumatic one it will be.
From here, we discover that we’re being told this story at one remove, years later, by their son, who seeks to uncover the truth of what happened to his parents on their strange journey that drove them apart and made them into such different people when they finally came home, their marriage broken for good, both of them made strangers to him as well.
What remains is chilling, riveting and intriguing. Our glimpse of the Perdido resort shows a ghostly ruin, wreathed in eerie fog, an act of epic seduction into a malicious warped reality.
There are many questions raised and left unanswered: the details of a game called “Murder Among Friends,” for one. And just who is Silsbee and why does there seem to be two of him? An author’s natural indecision in the early stages of creation? Or something more intriguing. And disturbing.
In an afterword, Straub explains how the idea for Perdido emerged from a dream. And.that he abandoned the project once he realized it might turn into “a kind of metafictional whimsy” he felt disinclined to pursue. Perhaps some post-modern game, amusing, even hilarious, the first read through, but as thin as tissue on reflection, the kind of book that reads like plastic wrap when read again, no new secrets to find.
Still, like anything from this master of modern terror, the author of the indomitable Ghost Story, it you makes you wonder what lies outside everyday vision. It makes you want to wander beyond what you know. To reach through that fragment of broken window.
Copyright 2015 by Thomas Burchfield