After my less-than-satisfactory experience with Ghost Story, I was pretty sure that I would never again read anything by Peter Straub. Unfortunately, my commitment wavered when I came across this novella. “It’s short,” I thought. “How bad can it be?” I thought. I was wrong. So very, very wrong.
This seemingly intriguing novella begins in the world of academia, where the lowly professor, Standish, has just accepted a fellowship from the famed Esswood estate. The chance to do research at these prestigious lodgings is just what Standish’s fledgling career needs, and since the very subject of his research actually spent time at the estate back in the day, he is hopeful that a publication will result from his time there. Leaving his very pregnant wife behind so he can travel to merry old England, Standish is instantly struck by the manor’s strange inhabitants and spooky corridors. The place is clearly haunted by some creepy children and dead poets from early 1900s.
Filled with clichés of the horror and gothic genres, Mrs. God is just dumb. The worst part is that one gets the feeling that Straub thinks he is writing some deep stuff. He tosses in Standish’s loss of humanity as he devolves into a depraved creature, and while Straub is clearly channeling The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, this only draws attention to Straub’s shortcomings. Other than that, there’s a big creepy house, a deformed baby, general marital discord, and an overbearing pressure for Standish to save his career. As with Ghost Story, it is possible to put these elements together in a way that will have readers craving more. Sadly, Peter Straub has proved again that he only has a knack for achieving the opposite effect.