Book #41 (November 21, 2010) Dark Gods by T.E.D. Klein
In the late 1970s, in a hardback anthology of horror stories, I came across a novella called “The Events at Poroth Farm.” It was a terrific piece of slow burn Lovecraftian horror, about a professor of literature staying in a small outbuilding next to an unoccupied farmhouse who gradually becomes aware that he’s being visited by some kind of alien beings. The author, T.E.D. Klein, nailed the cosmic horror tone of Lovecraft’s later work while still maintaining a distinctive literary voice. The story was intelligent, elegantly written and genuinely scary. Klein later became editor of Twilight Zone Magazine, which (to my subsequent regret) I never read. Then, in the mid 1980s, he published two volumes of horror fiction, the long novel The Ceremonies (based loosely on “The Events at Poroth Farm”) and a collection of four novellas called Dark Gods.
I started reading this collection back in the 80s or early 90s. I got less than halfway through it not because it wasn’t a good read but because I was losing interest generally in reading. (I was born with a short attention span that just gets worse as I age.) Something reminded me of Klein recently, though, and I purchased used copies of both The Ceremonies and Dark Gods. This time I actually plan to read them.
I just finished Dark Gods and I recommend it to anyone interested in literary horror stories with a Lovecraftian influence. The stories are: “Children of the Kingdom,” about the dark secrets of a seedy Manhattan neighborhood at the time of the 1977 blackout; “Petey,” about an old house haunted not by ghosts but by strange experiments growing in jars; “Black Man with a Horn,” about an aging horror writer (apparently based on Frank Belknap Long) dealing with stories of a reclusive native race in Malaysia and his own memories of his one-time friend H.P. Lovecraft; and “Nadelman’s God,” a long story about an insurance executive who gradually realizes that at some time in his teenage years he had gotten a glimpse of a malevolent god who apparently still exists and wants to do his bidding.
Klein’s narrative voice is strong, graceful, and often humorous, and if he falls short in any area it’s one where many literary horror writers fall short: characterization. With one or two exceptions, the characters are sketchy and the dialog is unconvincing (though the cocktail party conversations in “Petey” are occasionally clever). This lack of characterization (which doesn’t seem to afflict less literary-minded horror writers like Stephen King, whose vigorously colloquial prose is a perfect vehicle for character development) is probably a deliberate choice. Lovecraft, whose stories rarely included memorable characters, was far more interested in the story’s millieu — the atmosphere of dread and the sense that the plot was moving headlong toward something so traumatizing that you’d go insane if you fully understood it. Klein doesn’t plunge quite as headlong into the horror as Lovecraft did, but he’s excellent at creating atmosphere (perhaps the greatest strength any horror writer can have) and at making cogent observations that elevate the horror well above the level of pulp.
Perhaps the saddest thing in this collection, published in paperback by Bantam Books in 1986, is the statement in the short bio of Klein in the back that says he’s become a full-time writer and is working on another novel. Yet, as anyone who has ever attempted to follow Klein’s career knows, no other novels ever appeared. (Apparently Viking announced a Klein novel called Nighttown in 1989, but it never came out.) The only things that Klein seems to have written since this collection are the screenplay to a 1994 Dario Argento horror film (Trauma) and a few short pieces, plus a collection of stories called Reassuring Tales that, aside from a couple of lukewarm reviews on the Internet, seems to have vanished without a trace. In many ways, Klein comes across here as a very promising young author (he was probably in his early 30s when most of these stories were written) who was going to write even better things in the future, but that future never seems to have happened. He’s apparently still alive — he’d be about 63 years old — but unless he’s got a large manuscript in the closet or on his hard drive, that next novel was never written.
The only explanation I can find is a quote attributed to him in Wikipedia: “I’m one of those people who will do anything to avoid writing. Anything!”
Apparently he wasn’t exaggerating.