Friday, April 26, 2019

Eternities Lost to Darkness

I had never heard of Emergence (Avon Books, July 1981) when I found it in a bookstore a few months back, but I recognized the cover art as by the hand of Don Brautigam and bought it solely for that. Author Robert D. San Souci was an award-winning children's writer; he died in a sad accident just a few years ago. I held out some hope for the book because of his reputation, and while this work of Native American vengeance is told with lots of local New Mexico color and characterization, the mythological/horror elements don't have quite the power implied. I was more than halfway through when I realized nothing was happening.

Skipping ahead to the final chapters reveal an epic apocalyptic climax that is somehow muted, albeit a touch creepy. Just not enough of a touch. Emergence really could have been a work of overwhelming ancient horror, I really am fascinated by goddesses of death and destruction and the scholarly pursuit thereof, but San Souci couldn't quite twist the knife where it counts.

Despite a knowing depiction of teenage homosexuality and punk rock house parties, The Lake (Avon Books, Aug 1989, cover art by Jim Warren) is a YA novel—something about the back-cover typeface style screams it—and folks that is just not my jam. It was John Peyton Cooke's first novel, and he eventually moved on to crime writing. Again, it's not terrible: he writes clear, more than competent prose, but the witch story was one-dimensional and simplistic and could not keep my engagement very long. First few chapters were fine, teenage relationships are believable, but I absolutely have no interest in middle-school dialogue or shenanigans.

That said, other horror readers more sympathetic to this style might dig The Lake. Points for its nicely self-aware moments ("You tell me, you're the one that reads all those Stephen King novels") and especially the punk party held in a suburban home while the parents are away, man that really took me back. Too bad about the puke on that Clash t-shirt, now that's a collector's item.


Rob said...

I recently discovered this blog after reading the wonderful book Paperbacks from Hell and can I just's sincerely one of the coolest blogs ever! It's very entertaining and I'm constantly learning new things about vintage horror fiction. Keep up the great work and...the Misfits rule! Well, the Danzig-era Misfits anyway.....

Danny Chernick said...

(Spoilers) I happened to read 'The Lake' as a closeted middle schooler, and it packed a wallop for me. I picked up my copy because of the cover (who could resist that cover?), but the salamander witch plot isn't the focus. The first character death plays out like EVERY horror story's first character death... but then the novel surprised me. IIRC it focuses more on the impact that the teen's death has on his friends amd family, in particular one female friend and one gay male friend (the protagonists). At the time I thought that shift in focus was interesting and refreshing. For example, the teen died before he and his gay friend could achieve some closure in their relationship. I remember really liking the gay teen's portrayal. He felt like a typical teen who just happened to be into punk and into guys. His unresolved relationship with the dead friend lent the book this quiet elegiac quality that I've never forgotten. More than anything I remember the last few lines being a complete gutpunch. It was an informative read for me, at that age, and given my own circumstances. I was not expecting a book with a cover like that to be anything more than a slimy lake monster story. I doubt I'd read it again for fear it wouldn't hold up, but I recall hearing that John Peyton Cooke wrote a well-regarded novel about vampires and the AIDS epidemic, which I'd love to track down someday.

Thanks for the memories!

John Peyton Cooke said...

Danny, thanks for the comment, I enjoyed reading your memory of THE LAKE. As for the vampire novel, it's called OUT FOR BLOOD and will be reissued around October 2019 by Valancourt Books. As to the main blog post, although THE LAKE may indeed read like a YA of sorts, that's probably only because I was 18 when I started it and 20 when I finished it. And I'm lucky it was published at all, perhaps only owing to the bottomless thirst for horror in the 80s.

John Peyton Cooke