Picks and Pans Review: Floating Dragon

updated 03/07/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/07/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Peter Straub

The setting is a wealthy commuter suburb called Hampstead, Conn. In a factory nearby, a terrible poison gas is being created for the military when an accident occurs, killing three lab workers; the gas vented from the tragedy becomes a deadly cloud—the floating dragon of the title. There are dozens of characters in this novel, and time moves to and fro in an irritating fashion. Not only are Straub's elaborate fancies almost impossible to follow but much of this book is downright incoherent. In his Ghost Story, unrealistic things "happened" and the author didn't offer any explanation. That didn't stop the book from becoming a best-seller, and in Shadow Land, Straub went even further with impossible phenomena. Now Floating Dragon's whole last section is a disjointed description (sometimes, confusingly, in the first person,) of the four main characters wandering around underground, confronting horrible visions of the dead and of earthquakes. Is what happens all in the imagination of the one character who is a writer? Why does a shotgun blast stop a skeleton when the skeleton is just an illusion? The novel certainly isn't scary, but a reader can become hypnotized by the flow of nasty words and hideous images. Floating Dragon is, indeed, mostly nasty—a completely distasteful mess. (Putnam, $15.95)

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