Book Review : T.E.D Klein - The Ceremonies (1984)
American horror author T.E.D Klein is a bit of a mystery. He won over audiences with books such as Dark Gods and The Ceremonies in the eighties before stopping to write fiction altogether and never looking back. Apparently he hated writing and it gave him anxiety but reasons don't matter in retrospect, only actions do and quitting at the height of his glory earned Klein a strong cult following in the internet age. He was, by far, the most warmly recommended author for horroctober and with the help of my friend Bob Pastorella I was able to track down a beat-up copy of The Ceremonies in a Toronto second hand bookshop and make an opinion for myself one of the most elusive and celebrated authors in cosmic horror. So, how does long out-of-print T.E.D Klein fare in this day and age?
Well, let's see.
The Ceremonies is the extension of a novella titled "The Events at Poroth's Farm", one of T.E.D Klein's first and most celebrated publications. It features Jeremy Freirs, a young graduate student and teacher renting a farming couple's guest house in Gilead, New Jersey in order to prepare a class on Gothic literature he'll have to give in the fall. Only problem is that his landlords, Sarr and Deborah Poroth, are member of a super strict religious community that is not so keen on city folk and strangers being among them. Because, you know, they do shit "others" simply wouldn't understand and all. In New York, Jeremy's romantic interest Carol is working in a New York library alongside a man named Rosebottom, who has plans for our lovers. Not exactly the nicest plans. Their budding romance is part of a plan greater than themselves. Greater than what normal humans can fathom, really.
See, this is as exciting as I can put it. The Ceremonies isn't exactly pulse-pounding horror. It's very much a 19th century novel in its essence as it requires patience and involvement from the reader to play along the SLOOOOW and hyperdetailed exposition. People have accused The Ceremonies of being just a padded version of "The Events at Poroth's Farm" in the past and while I believe most exposition to have a purpose, I can definitely see where the criticism is coming from. The book is anachronistic. Now, it's not a bad book. Not at all. The Ceremonies may not be the most thematically loaded book in literature, but it's a subtle and atmospheric powerhouse that is meant to be read by candlelight in long and focused sittings. T.E.D Klein understands the dynamics of horror very well: don't try to scare your reader too hard, just give them enough material to scare themselves with. It's just a weird fit for contemporary reading. It requires an inordinate amount of dedication.
The Ceremonies is very much a Gothic novel. A Gothic novel about a Gothic literature teacher going through the utmost Gothic experience possible. It isn't exactly metafiction, but there are elements of it. Several parts of the book have Arthur Machen quotes for epigraphs and Machen is referenced himself in the novel. Protagonist Jeremy deliberately seeks a bucolic setting for his Gothic literature class preparation. Klein switches points of views and makes him write letters like a traditional Gothic character. The authors goes into great pain to mess with your sense of reality here and the more you stick with The Ceremonies, the most efficient it gets. Now I may be just blowing my own horn, but I don't think most readers are as collaborative as I am when it comes to tackle a slow and nuanced 500 pages novel, but T.E.D Klein's sneaky good command of narrative arts are worth the effort.
Sarr Poroth was my favorite character in the novel because he's the one who draws outside the lines a little bit. He's a tragic, tortured, Abraham-like character torn between faith and existence. He is loyal and hard-working and yet these two profoundly Judeo-Christian qualities are working against him in The Ceremonies, which I think was the boldest, most thought provoking idea in the novel. T.E.D Klein really nailed an important aspect of cosmicism through Sarr Poroth: not only we are insignificant, but our entire system of belief is simplistic and narrow-minded. Jeremy Freirs is stereotypical in many ways. Bookish protagonists are a dime a dozen in cosmic horror, but Poroth was something special. A savant mix of a Gothic character, a Greek tragedy hero and a biblical character. The Ceremonies would've been a lot less fun without him.
I've enjoyed The Ceremonies but I will also admit it was kind of extenuating. T.E.D Klein has an anachronistic writing style that is bound to frustrate the hell out of many contemporary readers. Books do that, though. They fuel on time and effort. They make you earn your entertainment and enlightenment. T.E.D Klein is perhaps the author that is most aware of these two variables that I have read in recent memory. He milks them all they're worth and it WILL drive some readers completely nuts. Don't wait until next Halloween to read The Ceremonies. Days are getting shorter, darkness is starting to shroud the Northern Hemisphere. This is a good companion to your winter. Take it slow. Make it last. The Ceremonies is a long journey and it is meant to be consumed like bourbon: on long, dark winter nights, when your sense of reality is starting to erode.