Review: ‘The Process (is a Process All its Own)’ by Peter Straub

The Process (is a Process All its Own) by Peter Straub
Subterranean Press (July 2017)
96 pages; $40.00 hardcover
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand

The majority of slasher fiction—whether it’s short stories, books, or movies—tends to focus on the hunt. Here’s a group of thinly-sketched victims, cannon fodder to be creatively knocked off one-by-one; and here’s a killer, often silent, usually masked, his or her motivations as mysterious as their identity. What comes after is, more often than not, a by-the-numbers recreation of the stalk-n-slash formula that’s been a staple of horror since the 1970s.*

With The Process (is a Process All its Own), Peter Straub has written a slasher novella that refuses to play by those well-worn rules. What he’s produced is a rarity—a slasher story that is genuinely haunting. It’s not necessarily what the killer does that is haunting (although it is disturbing); it’s his mindset that is most troubling. Straub shows the inner workings of a man capable of brutally killing and lovingly dismembering another human being, and it’s surreal and nonsensical and utterly impossible to relate to. Seeing that, we quickly understand how helpless, how vulnerable the killer’s victims are, usually well before they come to understand it themselves.

Straub spins his tale in an unconventional manner, dovetailing the story of “The Ladykiller” Tillman Hayward with ghostly tales involving the author Henry James, and, separately, Tillman’s brother Bob. It’s a bit disorienting at first, but trust in Straub and stick with it, as he ties it together with a satisfactory and thought-provoking finale.

The Process (is a Process All its Own) calls to mind the movie Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, a movie I admire for its effectiveness and artistry, and a movie which I have no desire to ever watch again. Henry, with a disturbingly matter-of-fact performance by Michael Rooker at its core, shows how killing is just a way of life for some people. Tillman Hayward is one of those people, and these are the kind of people who sometimes walk among us. Tillman Hayward is not a deformed backwoods freak, he’s not a chainsaw-wielding cannibal, and he’s not a silent entity of evil. He’s a man with a very different viewpoint on the value of life; a deadly chameleon hiding in plain sight.

I can, and do, highly recommend this book, but whether you “enjoy” it or not is an entirely different matter.

*Let it be known that I love this kind of stuff. What I wrote here is not intended to be a takedown of the serial killer subgenre, just an honest assessment of it.

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