This review is incomplete. I've already explained
my having trouble writing about works I admire, love, wished-I'd-written.
Essentially, a conclusion needs to be written plus a polishing added
to the "Nadelman's God" portion. One of these days, eh? 1/21/2011
Who is this guy and why should anybody read
him? Good question. I mean, here's a Baby Boomer with degrees in
Literature—thesis in fantasist stuff—pouring out one novel
and a handful of stories back in the ‘80s. But he stepped over academia
and is currently running a consulting business specializing in software
development and data design for the health care industry. Apparently,
Theodore Eibon Donald Klein is a man who has written what he has
to say and that's the end of it.
Chronologically, the 4 stories in Dark
Gods were written
before his novel, The Ceremonies, was published in 1984.
But his novel was based on an earlier novella from 1972, so all his
work is pretty much mixmastered into this decade of 40 years ago.
lead story, “Children of the Kingdom” fastens its location to
Manhattan, that Ground Zero of human advancement known as City, so
as to talk about what we've accomplished with modern civilization.
But Klein's Apple is not filled with museums, parks, theaters, architecture;
instead, we are immediately treated with the first-person protagonist's
ride through a “shabby, nameless city” of “gutted buildings”, “gaping
doorways”, “darkness”, “crumbling rows of tenements”, “filthy-looking
shops”, where little children throw rocks at passerbys and feral-like
humans piss in the street and wave at you (Viking, ISBN 0670805904,
p3-4). For all its glitzy
showmanship, NYC has an overwhelmingly destructive side that nulls
any sense of accomplishment. There is a parallel drawn between the
abandoned Mayan temples standing silent in the jungles and the deserted
wasteland of inner-city ghettos that forms the basis for this story's
mythological terror. Just as predators feed on the weakest of the
herd, there are un-nameable, unseen things below the streets waiting
for their time.
Plotwise, these are the sewer people, running in groups
like maggots under the yellowbrick roads. Their rallying point
becomes the infamous New York City Blackout of 1977, now seen as
one of the shining examples of instantaneous pandemonium which,
in less than 24 hours, 35 blocks of Brooklyn were destroyed by
fires, over 1600 stores were looted, 300 million dollars of damage
was done, and almost 4,000 people were arrested. Frustration over
an economic downturn, fears of Son of Sam running amuck, and sweltering
heat were considered the causes, and Klein adds the visual notion
of the “flukemen” to satirize where
our current evolutionary path—the destructive branch of it, at least—may
why should you read this guy? Because he uses the macabre and grotesqueries
of Horror like a sulfa pack on the festering social wounds of our
culture. The scare here is not of the “Boo—Gotcha!” variety,
but the kind that insinuates itself then grows more disturbing the
more you think about it. It's not a moral message, but a subtle sidestep
into a darkened alley where any curious urbanite can ponder the downside
of living on the cutting edge of current, city-dependant society.
Is the price worth it if your inner self winds up looking like this?
In round two, called “Petey”, we move from
the city into the manicuring of Nature, fondly known by most of
us as “the ‘burbs”. And, just
like the newly-found house the Kurtzes are showing off in the bucolic
peacefulness of Connecticut, the terror and scariness is very, very
subtle out there in all that fresh air. The story happens over the
course of one evening party, and, action-wise, nothing much occurs
beyond the typical lampshade-wearing, passing out, making passes,
eating canapés and awing over the renovated property, except
some seemingly-inconsequential party games of reading fortunes from
an obscure Tarot deck which nobody understands anyway. But hints
to what's really lurking are dropped throughout the affair, like
the Tarot card with the “hunched, grey thing” (p.123) that keeps
popping up and nobody can identify. Or, the final reveal adumbrated
by the Tower card.
Plaguing anomalies continue skulking around, mooning the read and
peppering the imagination with growing unease. One of the guests
almost hits a large animal in the darkened road. There's an old French
fablebook in the library about a farmer who plants a magic bean and
grows a “little
devil” to help with chores around the grounds. And, there are jars
of embryo-like things in the attic labeled “PD” which could translate
as petit diable. Walt dreams of
something ominous that's “pale, puffy, not completely formed” (p.116).
Host George Kurtz spends partytime in the bathroom with parturition-like,
mysterious crampings. The crazy and reclusive former owner had “eyes
like a sorcerer” (p.96).
This covert and growing sense of malignancy is intercut
with non-connected paragraphs originating from an asylum lockdown
regarding a determined suicider who is convinced something deadly
is loose and hungry. It is not revealed until late in the tale
that he is the former owner of this “find of a lifetime” (p.109).
The story's brilliance is that it is far more fascinating after you've
read it than while you're reading it. Putting the inklings
together for later closure realizes how clueless the characters are—and
that adds an uncompromised sense of terror because now these lambs-to-the-slaughter
are bloodying with your own thoughts and not out lying detached and
listless on the page in front of you.
The other reason for its perspicacity is subtextual. In
the previous story, author Klein has underscored the detritus attached
to our modern metropolitan expansion. Here, he examines humanity's
loss of essential, ancient wisdom through economic, educational,
and vocational insolence. After all, George and Phyllis' suburban
time-forgotten pagan magic—is gained by subterfuge and graft, and
in complete ignorance of the powers disturbed. The house's saved
furnishings are admired as objects worth money, not cherished heirlooms.
The 30-odd guests' banter reveals people interested in their own
words, not others' opinions. They're motivated by monetary success,
comfort, and gadgetry. Certainly ignorance is at fault, but there's
a whiff of disrespect for antiquated accomplishment in the air, and
certainly the metallic aftertaste of pride is the main course served
this disastrous evening. But these are not bad people; just victims
of their own short-sighted, consumptive society.
Is the notion that the world is flat any more
debilitating than the current belief that the stars twinkle in
a clockwork void? Have we not lost the rhythm of the earth by re-making
it to our own hidebound timeframe? And, is metaphysical advancement
hobbled or honored by the persistence in scientific methodology
and materialistic thinking over Kantian intuition and Platonic
idealism as valid epistemologies? The idea in conclusion is to
tie back to the loss of our ability to relate to the earth as it
was presented in more agrarian times. Modern bureauacries think
in terms of management, not integration. Capitalistic bourgouise
attitudes are about exploitation of a resource, not sharing in
harmony with it. After all, you must have something to sell—or
Of course, for most of us, the real question
is: who cares? But just stay aware, okay? And curious. And never, ever,
disregard objects in a cobwebbed attic, right Kemosabe?
In college, Klein did his graduate thesis on
H.P. Lovecraft, and “Black
Man with a Horn” is his back-handed two-step on HPL's literary methods
and thematic madness. Unlike most Derelethian corteges however, TEDK
doesn't mire down in Cthulhu Mythos mudholes, but blazes trail with
a geezer-old protagonist who was back-slappin' buddies with HPL during
the 20-something years in NYC. An aspiring writer in his days with
Howie, the voice of this story has grown hoarse and disgruntled in
the shadow of “the Master himself”(p.135) as his work has forever
been bylined as “Lovecraftian”(p.135). Even in his emeritus years,
our retired academic is still looking for a plot, a yarn, an adventure
to distinguish as his own.
Finally, he gets one from a lay pastor he's
met on an airline flight that's fleeing from the heartland jungles
of Malasia and some shrouded, transformational conjuration of the “wholly
to HPL, p.150) tribe. These “malign beings” of the pastor's story
plant demon seed in an unsuspecting host and spawn a shugoran,
or bogey-man that sports an elephant's trunk appendage and scares
naughty children. Or, it's “a large Negro man wearing a gas mask” (p.173),
or, it's a giant, hominoid catfish. No one's really sure, but our
old prof knows one thing: this monster is alluded to in past HPL
lore and he is now resigned to “the uncomfortable position of living
out another man's horror stories” (p.151).
The ominousness of TEDK's style is present,
but the creepiness drains out in a number of ways. Stretching for
even more parody, TEDK whisks along in HPL-like epistolary form.
And, as he blithefully remarks at the opening of this tale that “there
is something inherently comforting about the first-person past
tense” (p.131), his mouthpiece immediately
establishes himself as a pesky if not distrusting narrator. Such
immediate and straightforward use of these techniques distances the
reader as if the ensuing plot was being read to you out of a newspaper.
Also, but more subjectively, the Thing here is just a little
too amorphous for any real nightmarish palpitations.
“Black Man with a Horn” certainly works as a sly caricature of the
inspired-by-Lovecraft industry. Klein retains a unique vision among
the tossings while memorializing one of the greatest artists in his
field. But, most importantly and with an inspired piece of misdirection,
TEDK calculates the horror not of an antediluvian jungle demon, but
of a life lived crushed by its own jealously, spite, and vanity.
Appropriately, the curmudgeon storyteller is “absorbed into the denouement
of another man's tale” (p.173) and will be forgotten.
The final story, “Nadelman's God”, reads more
like a comedy of errors than a supernatural arising. But in a random
and chaotic universe as this, where mankind is still guessing at
metaphysical connections, it is with a mannered sigh of cultivated
resignation that an ancient, exiled god can be conjured out of
a sophomoric, pretentious poem ego-published in a small, collegiate
newspaper. This is Nadelman's haunt: that the naive dreams of artistic
aspiration evolve into his present—and successful—job writing jaunty
copy hooks for product advertising on Madison Avenue. The great
irony of this is that his dribbling selling verbiage is of no real
consequence to the world at large, whereas what rises out of his
earlier, imperiously-angry yet heartfelt doggerel has far more
influential proportion on its audience. Urging a consumer to buy
a bauble is one thing; using it to destroy lives is another.
Nadelman has dismissed any long-ago, youthful dream of using
his celestial musings to impress society's intelligencia. To his
mature eyes, seekers of the outré are too often just delusional “creeps” (p.183).
But self-proclaimed follower and audience-of-one Arlen Huntoon—hatchet-faced,
redneck “ goyische jackass” (p.240) as Nadelman calls him—has
raised Nadelman's demon-god The Hungerer, adding even more bitter
irony to Nadelman's worldview.
Then the brutal murders start, including Huntoon's,
and all hope of a benign belief system fail. As more unspeakable
events occur, Nadelman plunders into his own daunting
ennui. He feels as if the earth were yearning
to crush him, smother him, blot out the very memory of him; as
if the planet, all nature, all creation, the very fabric of reality,
were inimical to breeds such as his.
Once upon a time Nadelman was sparked by a
rarely-glimpsed, Machen-like vision long since suppressed as merely
an infantile terror fancy. And from now on, for the rest of his
life he carries that oh-so-Jewish burden of guilt for allowing
that “inkling of the truth” (p.247)
to flourish into this world.
Or was it selling to children an insistence
for later diabetes in the form of Flav-R Straws, Cap'n Crunch,
12/01/2010 by Larry Crawford