Fiction Review

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Mixing modern horror with ancient mythology.

By Denise Dumars     April 19, 2000

'You come when I call you'--what we say to dogs and children and those beyond our control.
That's the epigram at the beginning of Douglas Clegg's novel of possession and ancient evil, YOU COME WHEN I CALL YOU. Set in a fictional nowheresvillethe California low-desert community of Palmettothe novel explores a group of angst-ridden teenagers' life-changing experiences with a Lamia, an old-as-time evil spirit who has invaded the sleepy desert town where the main pastimes are adultery and dogfights.
But amidst the lethargy of desert heat, the teens Peter, Charlie, Nathaniel, and Alison are about to meet up with a power they can't begin to understandor control. This power seduces the boys, as she has already seduced another of the town's residents, changing him forever. Once the young people are infected with her eviland the words 'infected' and 'infested' are used throughout the story to describe the hold this evil has on themthey commit monstrous acts that, twenty years later, they begin to relive, prompting them to wonder whether the Lamia, who they thought was destroyed, is in fact still alive.
This Lamia is named Wendy, a trailer park enchantress, whose dark origins are hiding in plain sight in Palmetto. Late in the book we learn the secret of Wendy's birth and the demonic power that was drawn into her by the abominable acts of her parents. 'Abomination' is another word frequently used in the story, and the tale utilizes many such Biblical words in its tale of near-apocalyptic horror. This is a complex novel of human relationships, of damaged young people grown to adulthood and carrying monstrous secrets. Clegg's work is at its best in internal monologue, where the ordinary young men recoil at the horror of their own attraction to the demonic Wendy, and the horrid thing she becomes when they are making love to her. The paradox of attraction and repulsion is one of the book's themes, and the just-out-of-reach goal of redemption is as well.
Clegg is not a popcorn writer. The book demands time and attention, for it delves deep into the psyches of its characters, presenting them at different stages of their lives. There is extreme horror in the book, and it is not for the squeamish, but there is also a terrible beauty in Clegg's descriptions of monstrous events.
We start by learning of the characters' lives twenty years after the events that came upon them as teens. Peter Chandler and Alisonthe one innocent in the story who is nevertheless damned by her association with the evilare now married and living as very dysfunctional, damaged people. Peter has tried for years to help Alison, and she has spent a lot of time in mental hospitals and has experienced horrific physical effects from her encounters with evil, including strokes and mysterious bouts of hemorrhaging.
Without telling her husband, Alison goes to see Diego Correa, a professor who has been studying the mysterious case of Palmetto, the town that burned to the ground twenty years earlier. Alison believes that Correa can help her understand and get over what has happened to her. It is Correa's dream to uncover the mystery of Palmetto, a mystery that he believes is due to demonic activity. He begins hypnotherapy with Alison, hoping that while under hypnosis she will be able to regress to the time of the events in Palmetto, then once and for all bury the secrets she and her husband carry as such heavy burdens.
Peter is at first furious that she is seeing Correa, for he believes that she is better off not remembering the more dreadful details of that summer of 1980. But ultimately he will team with Correa in a desperate attempt to save Alison and put the evil to rest at last.
The taint of evilthe infestation or infection, if you willis one that pervades the book. Clegg is a very skillful writer, capable of wringing sympathy for the perpetrators of even the most heinous acts. They are, after all, infected or infested with the touch of the Lamia, and unable to help themselves, try as some of them do.
Clegg is successful at building the suspense of the story, at describing the corruption of evil, and at creating characters with depth. Much of Clegg's fiction uses ancient myths and legends as the bases for its horrors. In YOU COME WHEN I CALL YOU he weaves Biblical and pre-Biblical mythology into a modern-day story with believability and grace. But amidst the horror there is a deeper truth to the story, a truth of love and healing underlying the evil that is described in such monumental terms. It informs the ending of the story, suggesting, perhaps, that the opposite of evil is not good, but rather, love.

YOU COME WHEN I CALL YOU, paperback, Leisure, 2000. $5.99; ISBN 0-8439-4695-4. 393 pages. Hardcover signed limited edition, Cemetery Dance Publications, 2000. $40 Limited Edition or Traycased Lettered Edition, $175.


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