By T.E.D. Klein (Viking; 1982)
It’s a rare occasion when I’m as forgiving about a novel as I am with THE CEREMONIES, but this book is so damn good I’m more than willing to excuse the fact that its conclusion flat-out sucks.
THE CEREMONIES was the first and thus far only novel by former TWILIGHT ZONE MAGAZINE editor T.E.D. Klein (who apparently wrote a second novel, NIGHTTOWN, but as it was never published I think I’m safe in categorizing THE CEREMONIES as the author’s “only” such effort). A 500-plus page outgrowth of Klein’s 1972 short story “The Events at Poroth Farm,” THE CEREMONIES is an extremely precise, meticulously constructed work. It’s as lively and compelling as a Stephen King potboiler, but with a seriousness and focus King has rarely ever achieved.
It centers on Jeremy Friers, a young NYC based college professor spending a summer with the Poroths, a pious couple living in rural New Jersey. There’s also Carol, a virginal young woman who appears destined to be deflowered by Jeremy. What none of them know is that they’re all pawns in a series of ceremonies designed to unleash an otherworldly evil upon the world, ceremonies conducted by a seemingly kindly old coot named Rosie–who as a boy was inducted into carrying out the plans of a malevolent monstrosity.
The key to all this, in both the fictional and real worlds, is Arthur Machen’s immortal tale “The White People” (which Klein wrote about at some length in his entry in 1988’s HORROR: THE 100 BEST BOOKS). In THE CEREMONIES the tale assumes an all-too-real context, being the basis of Rosie’s rituals. Klein makes this connection even more explicit in Friers’ lengthy journal entries, which critique various gothic tomes at length, including THE MONK, MELMOTH THE WANDERER, THE TURN OF THE SCREW and the aforementioned Machen text. This points up the fact that THE CEREMONIES is itself a gothic with all the trimmings: a doomed romance, a virgin to be sacrificed, a heavily religious subtext (the Poroths are members of a devout Christian sect) and an undercurrent of brooding evil that grows increasingly malevolent.
It’s that sense of virulent progression that’s a large part of what makes this such a compulsively readable experience. But again, about that crummy ending…I already mentioned that the conclusion sucks, and I wasn’t kidding. The final twenty or thirty pages read like substandard WEIRD TALES fare, particularly when contrasted with the sheer brilliance of the rest of the book, while the concluding chapter feels severely rushed and under-conceived.
So how can I recommend THE CEREMONIES so highly when I have such grievous criticisms? Quite simply because it’s a superb piece of work that’s stayed with me through the years. In thinking over its contents I tend to ignore the imperfect final pages and focus on the book’s many strengths, most notably the superbly developed characters and ever-present sense of mounting horror.