Wednesday, July 27, 2016


The CeremoniesThe Ceremonies by T.E.D. Klein
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

”The tree was dead. But crouched amid its branches, hidden by a web of smoke still rising from the earth, something lived: something older far than humankind, and darker than some vast and sunless cavern on a world beyond the farthest depths of space. Something that breathed, schemed, felt itself dying and dying, lived on.

It was outside nature, and alone. It had no name. High above the smoking ground it waited, black against the blackness of the tree.

It’s time would come.”

It is always so helpful when evil is ugly, dark, demented, scarred, or deformed. If we feel revulsion, we can side step our way to the other side of the street until we have safely passed it by. If we hear grotesque evil of some such knocking at our door, we can look through the peephole and go, “Hell no, I’m not opening that portal.” But of course, evil knows that presenting itself with horns, forked tail, and cloven hooves is not going to seduce many souls to the dark side. Wouldn’t it be better if it had the face of a child, or was a beautiful woman, or a charming, handsome gentleman, or maybe….

”It has long been my conviction that, were an absolute and unremitting Evil to find embodiment in human form, it would manifest itself not as some hideous ogre or black-caped apparition with glowing eyes, but rather as an ordinary-looking mortal of harmless, even kindly mien---a middle-aged matron, perhaps, or a schoolboy...or a little old man.”
---Nicolas Keize, Beneath the Moss (1892)

Rosie is the man behind the scenes, shuffling the cards, pulling the strings, and manipulating events. He is about as harmless looking as a human being can be. ”For all his paunch and double chin he looked surprisingly frail up close, and a good deal older than she’d at first supposed, perhaps well along in his seventies. He was no taller than she was, with plump little hands, plump little lips, and soft pink skin with little trace of hair. He reminded her of a freshly powdered baby.”

Although I will say that whenever I have shaken hands with someone with plump little hands, their flesh always seems to pillow around my hand leaving it sticky and slightly damp. *Shudder* Okay, maybe not the best tip off that I’m dealing with an evil entity, but it is still an unsettling experience.

T.E.D. Klein wrote an ode to gothic mysteries, which I can fully appreciate because I have a soft spot for those haunted mansion, rattling chains, demonic evil kind of plots. In this case, he abandons all the normal locations for a good skeleton rattling tale and takes us out to the country among a religious farming cult. I can tell you that evil seems to follow around Bible thumpers like flies to a corpse. I say, if you want to avoid tangling with a diabolical fiend, you should surround yourself with Bacchus loving atheists.

Jeremy Freirs decides that country air would be good for him and that maybe abandoning the city will allow him to focus on his dissertation regarding gothic novels. He brings bags full of books with him of all the usual suspects, Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, Arthur Machen, H.P. Lovecraft, Ann Radcliffe, and one of my favorite gothic novels…The Monk. Now on the Poroth farm, he stands out like a sore thumb. He is chubby in a community of people who stay rail thin working hard for a living. They don’t believe in modern conveniences, not even electricity, so farming is about as hard as it can be made to be. The great thing about candles and lanterns is they create WAY better creepy shadows. Jeremy stumbles around trying to convince himself that he is having a good time, but really he is about as happy with nature as a werewolf is with a veggie platter.

Back in NYC, Jeremy’s almost girlfriend Carol is under the guidance of the harmless little old man Rosie, who, of course, is manipulating her into going to the country to see Jeremy, as the Poroth farm is exactly the place where the diabolical reawakening of an ancient evil is going to happen.

Holy S**t, right?

Now Carol has another problem which makes her a perfect candidate for this nefarious manifestation of evil. She is a virgin. Being a virgin in a horror novel of this type is like wearing a red shirt on an away team on Star Trek. Carol has a flowing white dress, some BDSM, and some pain in her near future.

On the farm, things are getting wiggy. In a letter (for the Millenniums out there, that is how we communicated in the past...think of it as long hand texting) to Carol, Jeremy sums it up nicely. ”I tell you, Carol, this summer started off like Currier & Ives, but it’s ending up like Edward Gorey.”

And he don’t know the half of it.

Klein also creates an interesting dynamic between the two couples once Carol arrives at the farm. Jeremy has been having rather elaborate fantasies about Sarr Poroth’s lush wife, Deborah. Sarr is also showing more than a casual interest in the lithe and pretty Carol. Jeremy is more than a little jealous at Sarr’s interest in Carol, and Sarr is well aware that Jeremy has been making lustful eyes at his wife. It is almost comical the amount of time the characters are moving around the board worried about who might sleep with whom when this incredibly horrible, vile, monstrous thing is about to crash the party.

The book, unfortunately, feels bloated. I felt a bit bogged down in the swamps from time to time with sweat trickling down my back and tall weeds in all directions. Klein does bring everything together into one explosive climax and does a great job tipping his cap to those gothic horror writers who have come before him. He certainly understood the gothic elements. ”Suddenly a flash of lightning lit the sky. Freirs shouted and drew back. A humped grey shape was pressed against his screen, outlined in the light. The eyes were wide, unblinking, cold as a snake’s. The mouth hung partly open. There appeared to be something crouched inside it….

Yabba Dabba do!

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