Friday, January 8, 2010

How I found Douglas Clegg's "Isis"

How I found Douglas Clegg's “Isis”

The month of December had been especially strange. That night didn’t fail to disappoint. I arrived at the bookstore just after dark, later than usual. Earlier in the day I had gone out of my way to make a purchase—a necklace.

Science Fiction had been cycling through my mind. When I passed through the doors of the Barnes & Noble I immediately spotted a book on the “Art of Avatar” which triggered an urge to detour from my usual path to the café where I write.

Instead, I headed to the very back of the store where the shelf for new releases in sci-fi was located. I thought I might check out what was available—I was/am a voracious reader, after all. As I wove through tables and shelves to the back wall, the compulsion only grew stronger. I could not be deterred.

When I passed the rows of manga and romance novels that signaled I had drawn near, my hand strayed to the little sparrow caught in the red gem that hung from a chain over my heart. The gesture was unconscious; as the necklace happened to be a new luck charm and I had this constant need to be sure it was still there.

Just then, I turned a corner. Directly ahead of me, the new release shelf towered. My steps slowed. My eyes locked onto a small hardback book at the very center. The title, set in crimson against black and white, read: Isis. There was one copy.

The author was unknown to me. And the illustration looked nothing like any of the others--not science fiction. So I assumed it was fantasy.

My hand reached out, as if someone were going to snatch it from me. Silly, I know. But at that point my gut was practically screaming that this book was the one that I had made the trip to the back of the store for! This little novella held something special, some experience or revelation necessary to my evolution.

Books are like that for me, sometimes. Fiction shows me a great truth about the world or about myself, one that I might have refused to see for any number of reasons. My theory is that only a truly gifted author can bring that out, and bring it out in such a way that anyone can understand it.

But, as I stood there my gut feelings started to be confirmed by little, startling clues. I flipped open the book and immediately came to a simple dedication page. All it said was, “For Mindy.” And those words were perched above, what appeared to be, a sparrow!

Everyone in my family likes to call me “Mindy” to this day. It was my childhood nickname--I never use it. I almost dropped the book! Of course, it was just a weird coincidence because I didn’t know the author from Adam. Still, with the name, it being the first page I flipped to, the bird and the whole ‘air’ of the night…I was a bit freaked.

The illustrations, as I flipped through the pages, were gothic and somehow, classic. The book, however, seemed to be a new release, as far as I could tell. Looking through the work was like looking back in time. I knew I had found a gem. I simply didn’t know what kind of gem it was.

To get a better sense of the work (i.e. if he would be consistent from the first chapter to the last, if I could trust him enough to buy a hardback without any other proof, basically) I read the author’s bio, which was impressive. But I couldn’t find a single one of his books in the store, other than the one in my hand. And I looked everywhere! Maybe he just happened to be popular…I don’t know. The experience fit with the evening. The way the book was just waiting there for me had felt so surreal.

I had also read the opinions of other authors on the back of the book, the blurbs. The odd thing about those was the assortment of authors. For a little while, I was kind of thrown. I suppose I was still trying to sort out where Isis belonged.

The novella looked like horror, and I guess that falls under Fantasy. On the other hand, it really could have been in the Young Adult section. In fact, it probably would have gotten a lot more attention sitting on the new release shelf, center aisle, in the YA section with the rest of the releases in that market. The whole thing kind of threw me, I suppose, being a writer. What do I know, though?

Anyhow, I finally wondered over to the café with the book and a few others I found on the walk to the opposite side of the store where I usually write. “Isis” intrigued me to the point that I found myself reading it rather than editing (I ended up buying it). It didn’t put me too far behind, about an hour—I’m an exceptionally fast reader. And the book was barely more than a hundred pages.

Iris Villiers’ story would not release me. I almost felt like I was looking at an enchanted mirror from my childhood, there were so many similarities I could draw. It’s exceptionally rare I find a book that does this for me. No, it wasn’t exactly alike—that would be ridiculous. But there were many truths that resonated with me.

And the story of Isis and Osiris, which forms the underlying theme of the plot, has fascinated me for years. I’ve attended lectures, been to museums, researched…the whole nine yards. So this simple, classic use by Clegg made me skeptical at first, yet did not disappoint.

To summarize the plot…

Iris Villiers lives among a dysfunctional, quietly broken family in Cornwall near the old ruins where legend is still very much alive. She needs and adores one of her older twin brothers, Harvey, more than anything else in life. He is love, companionship, laughter, protection, stability, and sanity—the world to her. But when a horrifying incident with her cruel new governess leads to a fall from a window, she is left broken and without her beloved brother. The chilling magic, the lure of the ruins where Harvey’s body has been entombed, now holds a forbidden promise. Though the Gardner has warned her, she can’t help wanting to call to that part of herself. Iris had to be Isis, and Harvey was her Osiris to raise from the dead… just like the play from their childhood. Wishing for such dark and yet beautiful dreams, however, has a dear cost that must be paid.

Here is where I found my particular revelation. I will quote the book:

“It was because she wanted him all for herself. Many died so that Isis could bring Osiris back from the land of the dead.” ~From “Isis” by Douglas Clegg

I never looked at the story of Isis as selfish before. But really, when I think about it, she was. And when I thought about everyone I have lost, what I said as I grieved over them…

I remember once, many years ago, begging someone to stay with me as their heartbeat slowed beneath my hands. I recall the rattling, wet, rasp of their labored rise and fall to breathe...those last few breaths. The desperation was so strong, and I remained utterly helpless in the face of something as great as death. Yet, I pleaded with them to remain, to fight when we were all exhausted and distraught. When he was gone, I kept crying, asking him to wait for me…to wait for me. How selfish is that? I regretted it later. I regret it now. Who was I? What was I?

Isis was even more selfish than I, by degrees. I see that now. She actually managed to bring Osiris back. I haven’t taken anyone from where they belong—not like that. At least I can take some measure of comfort there.

Iris Villiers’ story, on the other hand, is a true tale of horror. The message you are left with at the end remains with you. It is exemplary, in the sense that you are disturbed, deeply, and not disgusted as a lot of horror stories these days tend to carry on. I was truly impressed and I would recommend the book to the young adult audience, as well as on up the line in general horror (or fantasy, if we are going to place it in the bookstore...silliness). The simplicity and resonance of the work are the keys to its success, I suspect.

“Isis” is a captivating horror novella that left me with an uneasy feeling…the good kind. I may always hesitate before wishing for anything, anymore.


I included a link to Amazon with the pic on the side of the blog, as well as the addy below, where you can purchase the book. :)


  1. Mel -

    Thank you for finding and enjoying Isis. This is the best review -- and write-up -- for this story that I can imagine.

    I hope you'll enjoy my novel, Neverland, when it comes out in trade paperback in April 2010.

    Neverland is set in the 1960s and deals with two young cousins who discover an abandoned shack in the woods on an island off Georgia. Within it, they begin to play games that become more and more terrifying.

    Thank you, again.

    -- Douglas Clegg

  2. Mr. Clegg,

    Thank you for writing such a wonderful novel and leaving a compliment on my blog. Yet another surreal moment for me. :)

    I will look for Neverland in April.

    And you are most welcome.