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Pork Pie Hat by Peter Straub
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Pork Pie Hat

by Peter Straub

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Pork Pie Hat is a novella from Peter Straub, recently reissued by Cemetery Dance Publications in a handsome hardcover illustrated edition. The story involves an old jazz musician who goes by the name Pork Pie Hat, and a young graduate student who "discovers" Hat's brilliant saxaphone playing and decides to write a definitive biography of the man. He does this by interviewing Hat over one very long night, but the story Hat wants to tell isn't about music at all; instead it has to do with events that took place in The Backs, a lawless area near his small Southern hometown, on Halloween night many years ago.... This being Peter Straub, of course the events include elements of horror, but the story is also an elegy of sorts for a type of music and type of world that barely exists anymore, and Straub's writing is equally as lyrical as it is horrific in parts. Recommended. ( )
1 vote thefirstalicat | Apr 15, 2011 |
Fans of supernatural horror will enjoy this excellent coming-of-age story. A Columbia University graduate student (we never learn his name) arrives in New York City with visions of getting his M.A. in English and enjoying the city's jazz scene. Upon learning that jazz legend Pork Pie Hat is still alive and performing at a nearby club, the narrator slips into the bar for a life changing experience. Hat's music is mesmerizing and the student becomes intent on finding out all he can about the old musician. However, when Hat agrees to a rare interview on Halloween night, the narrator gets more than he bargained for.

Hat shares his horrific tale as he downs a bottle of gin. While the story seems too fantastic to believe, the narrator can't help but to wonder about it for years to come. Indeed, Hat's coming-of-age story about the horrors he and a close friend witnessed as kids on another Halloween night out in a forbidden area known as The Backs will leave you wondering too. Were the horrors created in Hat's mind or something he experienced at the hands of others?

The Bottom Line: Peter Straub's Pork Pie Hat took me back to my own grad school days. The story is realistically written; I felt like I was sitting in the bar listening to Hat play as I read this book. It's an excellent weekend read if you are in the mood for a classic, supernatural, horror tale. Jill Bauman's black & white illustrations enhance this eerie tale. Read it around Halloween for best effect. Highly recommended for fans of horror.

Note: This spooky tale first appeared in the anthology "October Dreams: A Celebration of Halloween."

This review also appears at the Mini Book Bytes Book Review Blog: http://minibookbytes.blogspot.com/ ( )
  aya.herron | Mar 27, 2011 |
An unnamed grad student discovers that one of his favorite musicians, jazz legend Pork Pie Hat -- whom he thought had long since passed -- is performing at a small club in New York. Excited by the prospect of hearing a legend, he tracks down the small night club and settles in for some good music. The band on the little stage has some well-known musicians playing, but Hat hasn't shown up. Even so, the grad student's enjoying himself, almost hoping Hat won't show. But when he does and adds his saxophone to the mix, the music becomes more than notes and melodies, and the grad student gets so enchanted that he wants to learn more about Hat. Finding next to nothing in the university library on him, the grad student musters up enough courage and asks Hat himself for an interview.

Seeming to pay scant attention to the grad student, Hat agrees, asking the grad student to stop by his apartment in a few weeks, on Halloween. When he arrives, he gets more than he bargained for as Hat weaves a tale about his childhood, and that one night in the woods near the off-limits place known as The Backs where something happened that terrifies him to this day about Halloween.

"Pork Pie Hat" sets up the perfect tale for Halloween -- one of those spooky tales of kids traipsing into the woods, going to some place forbidden by everyone in town, just because they want a good scare and want to know why it has such a reputation. And the stories a good one, too, leaving much up to the imagination as to what's real and what's supernatural. The character of Hat is nicely drawn: from the 11 year-old Hat forcing himself to follow his friend into the woods to the older, grown-up Hat who has a way of talking that makes you feel as though you're being let in on some great secret.

For the most part, I got into the story following young Hat and his cohort, Dee Sparks, as they encountered the mysteries of The Backs, with the makeshift shacks and greasepaper windows, the eerie noises and glowing lights. But once I reached Part Three of the book, the story didn't so much lose steam as it lost some believability and puts into question everything that I just read. If some parts, like characters or sequence of events may have been changed, that would have seemed reasonable; memories can re-configure how events took place in our minds as we age, and I could understand Hat telling things slightly out of order or not remembering a name correctly. The way "Pork Pie Hat" left the story, I think I know what may have actually happened with Hat's tale, but not knowing for certain or being allowed to know either way, I felt dissatisfied. ( )
  ocgreg34 | Nov 9, 2010 |
an unforgettable story about a guy, who's haunted by a story, he was told. ( )
1 vote beezle176 | Oct 12, 2006 |
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Passionate about jazz, the narrator is granted an interview with one of his greatest heroes, a saxophonist by the name of Pork Pie Hat, and he hears the tale of a night of extraordinary stories from a man dying of alcoholism.

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Cemetery Dance

An edition of this book was published by Cemetery Dance.

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