Peter Straub’s A Dark Matter takes the setup that Stephen King turned into a horror trope: a group of friends face unspeakable horror as young ‘uns then reconvene when they’re old and damaged to finally defeat that unspeakable horror. Only Straub smartly plays it without the rematch. A Dark Matter isn’t the coming of age take as described above, it’s about age itself, and the events and people who shape us.
Lee the narrator is a middle-aged man, best selling novelist married to another Lee (Lee Traux, often referred to a the Eel). Eel and her high school chums fell in with a wandering Timothy Leary type, Spencer Mallon. Only Mallon promised world changing magical experiences, breaking through to a higher reality via the occult. During the ceremony something terrible happens, the aftermath both immediate and decades in length.
Lee (the husband) never trusted Mallon and wasn’t at the ceremony, and now years later, he wants to write a book about what happened that night. He travels to and fro interviewing the Eel’s friends, and everyone has a differing account of what happened.
The narrative structure of A Dark Matter is a joy (a twisting, and morphing first into third person), as are the collection of characters Straub has gathered. While the climatic reveal of Eel’s version of that night is somewhat anticlimactic insofar as it’s not about the big reveal. The novel isn’t supposed to be about the big shock payoff, anyway. It’s about the creeping dread of secrets and past lives controlling our present.