|THE BUFFALO HUNTER
Peter Straub (www.peterstraub.net)
Cemetery Dance Publications (www.cemeterydance.com)
Released: Late 2012
From the moment thirty-five-year-old Bobby Bunting lies back on his bed with a paperback Western and a baby’s bottle full of vodka, it’s clear that we’re in the presence of a very odd individual. A Midwesterner living in New York, working as a data entry clerk, Bunting is a modern-day Walter Mitty; the life people believe he leads – the highly-placed and –paid job, and the beautiful model girlfriend – is nothing like the one he actually leads – a lone existence, reading pulp paperbacks and drinking in his one-room apartment. When he finds his old baby bottle in the attic of his parents’ home, Bunting hides it in his case and brings it back to New York. As he builds a collection, his world starts to change subtly; soon the line between his fantasy life and the real one is blurred, even for him, and Bobby Bunting is in danger of losing himself in his own imagination.
Peter Straub, one of the world’s finest producers of horror fiction, got the idea for this novella at the opening of a friend’s art show, Rona Pondick’s Bed Milk Shoe. Cemetery Dance have cleverly used a photograph of one of the pieces as the book’s cover, and all those baby bottles strapped to a double bed make for a very eye-catching cover. Behind it, a very short and very restrained (as in most of Straub’s work that I have read) piece of horror fiction, beautifully-executed and more than a little unsettling.
The story is told almost exclusively from the point of view of Bobby Bunting, a thoroughly unlikeable, self-centred character who, nevertheless, manages to carry the story from start to finish. It’s an excellent vantage point from which to watch the proceedings unfold: his growing obsession with the different types of baby bottle and teat (there’s a lesson there for collectors of all types); the blurring of the line between reality and fantasy, so that we can see Bunting’s thought processes and how he sees his own life. His interactions with other people are excruciating to witness, his social skills almost non-existent; the description of a brief date will leave the reader squirming and uncomfortable, if not baying for his blood. This is a man most comfortable in his own company, a man who enjoys relaxing after a hard day with a drink and a good book. Despite how much he reads, his reading is restricted to the handful of books that grace his bookshelves, so he knows exactly where to turn when things take a turn for the strange.
Straub borrows elements from Western writer Luke Short (though the book from which Straub’s tale takes its title doesn’t seem to exist), Raymond Chandler and Leo Tolstoy as Bunting’s tale unfolds. It’s a strange mix, but in the hands of this master of the genre, it comes together perfectly, adding a new dimension to what might have been a one-note story.
Peter Straub is a much underrated writer (at least here in the UK – people who don’t read horror know him as the man who wrote that book with Stephen King, or believe him to be one of King’s pseudonyms), who continues to produce some of today’s best fiction in any genre. The Buffalo Hunter is a short, offbeat tale that is likely to stay with the reader for some time after the book has been returned to its place on the shelf. The combination of loathsome protagonist, highly original story and startling conclusion combine to make this one not to be missed. Fortunately, the book is being given the trade hardcover treatment by the wonderful Cemetery Dance, so copies should be relatively easy to come by. At the much-too-short 150 pages, this one is more than worth your time.