April 2010

Clegg’s sinister tale

By Douglas Clegg
Review by
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The Vanguard Press edition of Douglas Clegg’s Neverland (originally published in 1991 by Pocket Books)—like 2009’s reissue of Isis—features haunting interior illustrations by Glenn Chadbourne; the eerie, meticulously detailed images brilliantly complement the Southern Gothic story of one extended family’s far from idyllic summer vacation on an isolated peninsula off the coast of Georgia.

For 10-year-old Beau Jackson, the annual late August trek from his home in Richmond, Virginia, to his grandmother’s ancestral property on a Georgia peninsula known as Gull Island is a dismal one. For two weeks, Beau will have to deal with his constantly arguing parents as well as his alcoholic aunt and uncle, swarms of mosquitoes, unbearable humidity—and his weird cousin Sumter Monroe.

But this summer proves to be different from past vacations. Sumter, always a little strange, is downright disturbing. Obsessed with a decrepit shack at the edge of the property, Sumter makes it his own personal clubhouse and names it Neverland, a place where grown-ups are forbidden and an old human skull is worshipped as a destroying god. Compelled to Neverland to escape the dysfunction and alcohol-fueled fights inside Grammy Weenie’s house (ironically called The Retreat), Beau and his older twin sisters Missy and Nonie enter Sumter’s dark sanctuary and become entangled in a web of evil that includes thievery, animal sacrifices, blood drinking, demon worship and, quite possibly, facilitating the beginning of the end of the world.


Written from the point of view of a 10-year old, Clegg’s narrative is simultaneously an innocent coming of age tale replete with prepubescent imagery (consuming Yoo-hoo chocolate soda and Mallomar treats, old Playboys stashed away like hidden treasure, awkward first kisses, etc.) and a pulse-pounding, bladder-loosening horror featuring nightmarish monstrosities and gruesome action.


As the story unfolds, readers aren’t certain whether the burgeoning evil is actually occurring or if it’s just Sumter’s visions taking root in Beau’s susceptible mind: “The world was coming apart, and I didn’t know anymore what was real and what was imagined.”


Additionally, the dichotomy between childhood and the adult world is a powerful motif throughout. In youth there is purity and truth; adults live enmeshed in lies. For example, Gull Island is not an island but a peninsula. The Retreat is anything but a haven. Rabbit Lake is not a lake, etc.


Horror aficionados should cherish this beautifully illustrated reissue—and even though it was published almost two decades ago, the story is a timeless one and is still as haunting today as it was back in 1991. Classic Clegg unearthed.      


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By Douglas Clegg
ISBN 9781593155414

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