The Night The Lights Went Out in Georgia

As a Southerner, born and bred, I used to take great offense to sweeping over-generalizations about the South and people from the region; that everyone from down here is stupid, racist, ignorant, inbred, illiterate, toothless, etc. No region or state in this country has cornered the market on those things, nor has any state or region cornered the market on intelligence, education, intellect, liberalism, art or literature. Now, when I see such sweeping generalizations, I just chuckle to myself a bit and shake my head; as it actually says more about the person making the statement than the region being defamed.

I’m from the South, as I said, and I am not ashamed of that. We have a lot of problems down here, there’s no denying that, but I love the South in spite of its problems. Some of the most beautiful and poetic and lyrical writing I’ve done has been about the South; most of it being in short stories, many of which have never seen print. One day I will write about a novel about Alabama, the part of the state that I’m from; and I have some really terrific memories about the summers I spent there in my childhood.

I cannot spend the month of October writing about horror and not mention Douglas Clegg. I met Doug at Stoker Weekend on Long Island in I think 2010; I may not have that date right–I am very foggy on years and dating now that I am closer to sixty than fifty. I was aware of him, of course, before I met him; I’d been wanting to read his Arthurian novel Mordred Bastard Son for years. I bought a copy of one of his books to have him sign it, and I read it on my flight home.

It was Neverland, originally published in 1991.

clegg-neverland

No Grown-ups

Among other words we wrote across the walls—some in chalk, some with spray paint—these two words were what my cousin Sumter believed in most.

There were other words.

Some of them were written in blood.

No child alive has a choice as to where he or she will go in the summer. After Grampa Lee died, our parents would drag us back every August to that small, as yet undeveloped peninsula off the coast of Georgia, mistakenly called an island.

Gull Island.

We would arrive just as its few summer residents were leaving. No one in their right mind ever vacationed off that section of the Georgia coastline after August first, and Gull Island may have been the worst of any vacation spots along the ocean. Giant black flies would invade the shore, while jellyfish spread out across the dull brown beaches like a new coat of wax. It was not (as sarcastic Nonie would remark) “the armpit of the universe,” but often smelled like it.

The Jackson family could afford no better.

Neverland is gorgeously written, and pretty damned scary at the same time.

From the very beginning, I was caught up in the brilliance of this book. The opening, in which the main character’s family is trapped in the car driving to a family vacation they are spending visiting relatives in Georgia, resonated with me–as every summer I was in the exact same situation heading to Alabama from Chicago. I remember the gas stations and the chocolate Yoo-hoos, buying the state maps, sitting in the backseat of the car with the “don’t cross” lines of demarcation between my sister and myself, and the forlorn wishing that we could take a family vacation doing something fun rather than visiting relatives.

And I was completely transported back to my own childhood.

The book is riveting, frankly–so gorgeously written and involving that it can’t be put down. I read it while I sat waiting to board my flight, all the way to Chicago, and finished it about halfway to New Orleans–and was sorry that it was over.

Is there anything quite like losing yourself in the grips of a master story-teller?

I’ve also read his chilling You Come When I Call You, and the truly great news here is that there is an enormous backlist to get lost in.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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