The sadly non-prolific T.E.D. Klein published his only novel, The Ceremonies, in 1984. 1984! His second book, a year later, the collection Dark Gods, is comprised of novellas written the decade prior. He was, however, editor of Twilight Zone magazine, which published well-respected short horror stories until its demise in 1989. Although all of his fiction is set in the modern era, its care and subtlety hearken back to late 19th/early 20th century masters like M.R. James, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, Sheridan Le Fanu, Lovecraft, etc. Modern purveyors of this style work in what has been dubbed "quiet horror." Ramsey Campbell, Peter Straub, Charles L. Grant and Dennis Etchison are all familiar names in this sub-genre. These writers pride themselves on creating moods and atmospheres, a sense of awe, mystery, providing chilling intimations of fear and dread rather than, as Stephen King once put it, "going for the gross-out."
I quite like the Bantam cover of Dark Gods at top: out of a vast stormy sky an inchoate face, raging, fanged, demonic, a living darkness threatening a solitary house, even if most of the settings here are urban. The covers are larded with the kinds of blurbs from reviews any young writer would kill for. The first novella, "Children of the Kingdom" (originally published in the game-changing anthology Dark Forces in 1980), takes place in the midst of the infamous New York City blackout of summer 1977 at an old folks' home where the narrator's grandfather lives. Slowly and surely Klein builds the atmosphere, dropping hints and clues throughout, mixing vague supernatural dread with real-life threats caused by the blackout. The sewers of New York, it turns out, harbor more than just baby alligators, and roving gangs might not be from the next block over.
"Black Man with a Horn" (1980), one of Klein's most lauded stories, has as its narrator an old horror fiction writer who once knew Lovecraft himself. After a chance meeting with a nervous missionary returning from Malaysia on an international flight, the narrator learns the true meaning of a horrific bogeyman from ancient myth - myth he thought was made up entire by Lovecraft and his fellow circle of Weird Tales writers. Bookish and self-referential, "Black Man with a Horn" is similar to the works of Thomas Ligotti; it is both a sly, ironic meditation on the art of horror as well as a creepy, satisfying story on its own. "Petey" and "Nadelman's God" are the two other quite good novellas included, both worth reading; virtually all are whispery and mythic, tinged with nightmarish imagery, and even touch on tensions between urban and rural, upper class and lower, age and memory. Nicely done, Mr. Klein.
But I was little taken with The Ceremonies; all I can recall of it two years later is the sense of disappointment I felt while reading it. It is based on his acclaimed novella "Events at Poroth Farm" (1972), which, sadly, is not included in Dark Gods. I've yet been able to track it down, but one of the problems I had with The Ceremonies was that it absolutely felt like an expanded short story, overstuffed and at times, simply boring. Another bookish narrator, a college professor who repairs to a farm in rural New Jersey to read Gothic literature to prepare for his upcoming class. But the countryside proves less restful than imagined. Of course it does! Perhaps my taste runs more towards bloodier, more intense horror than I think it does; maybe Klein's reputation has been magnified by his virtual disappearance from writing in the intervening 25 years.
Klein's work is not difficult to find despite having been out of print for years; copies abound on Amazon and eBay as well as used bookstores. While opinions may vary on The Ceremonies, I have to say that Dark Gods (perhaps) proves the genre functions best in the short story or novella format; it's an important piece of horror fiction, one that respectfully earns its place upon the shelf next to its mighty elders.
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