T. E. D. Klein
mmpb, Bantam, $3.95, 1986, 263 p.
One of the top practitioners of horror fiction in the latter half of the previous century is also one of the most frustrating. T. E. D. Klein has published very little after making a name for himself in the 1970s and 80s.
His first collection, Dark Gods, is a perfect example of what an author can accomplish in an understated manner. The four novellas in this volume are strong examples of that type of horror. Perfect reading for Halloween.
“Children of the Kingdom” concerns a man who has had to put his grandfather in an assisted living facility in New York City. His grandfather is still active and able to get around and begins to make friends in the neighborhood. One of these is a man who is trying to have a book he’s written published. The book concerns a forgotten race that inhabited the Americas before the coming of the Europeans. Not everyone wants the book published, however.
A housewarming party in rural Connecticut becomes quite chilling in “Petey”. If the house you’re buying seems to be a bargain too good to be true, perhaps you should investigate the personal history of the previous owner. Especially if you’ve used your influence with the government to have the owner evicted through eminent domain. Otherwise, the party might be a memorable event for reasons other than what you intended.
In “Black Man with a Horn”, an aging pulp writer (who is widely believed to be a thinly disguised Frank Belknap Long) discovers that not everything in Lovecraft’s fiction was made up.
In the final story, “Nadelman’s God”, an advertising executive wrote a poem for his college literary magazine in which he invoked a new god. After a heavy metal band discovers his poem and adapts it for one of their songs, he acquires a fan. This fan, however, has decided the god is real and follows what he takes to be instructions in the poem to invoke the god.
Several things struck me about these stories. First, it’s been nearly 30 years since the most recent of these stories was published, . They very much invoke the New York of the 1970s, the time in which most of them are set. Klein’s judicious use of detail very much establish the time and place. And while the basic story in each of them could be set in other decades, they work just fine as period pieces. It’s that sense of time and place that make the horrors more effective. Or maybe I’m just getting more nostalgic as I age.
The horrors in these stories aren’t the in-your-face type that the splatterpunks and their literary descendants would celebrate a few years later. It’s the aforementioned details that help establish the horror. What you think is setting or background details turns out to be crucial to the horror that slowly unfolds.
Some people write horror that’s over the top and intended to shock at least as much as it scares. Klein is very much a practitioner of the Less is More school of horror. The things that frighten in these stories are hidden among the people and places of the everyday world. They would lose much of their power if they were out in the open.
Klein has a great respect for the field and the authors who came before him. This knowledge was most clearly on display in “Black Man with a Horn”. The story at times is a letter to Lovecraft, literally, where the narrator address Lovecraft directly. The narrator was a member of the Lovecraft circle, and much of the character development involves his coming to grips with the fact that he will always be remembered in Lovecraft’s shadow. To what extent this was true of Long is for those more knowledgeable than me to say.
Dark Gods is a superior collection of understated horror. So turn down the lights. Settle in. Pay to attention to that sound in outside. It’s just a trash can lid that fallen to the ground.