Books & Literature: December 1991

Book Reviews


Clive Barker

Harper Collins Publishers

Imajica is Barker’s most profound and richly imaginative book since the publication of Weaverworld. As Barker’s catalog of literature and screenplays has grown, he has attempted broader, more challenging work, presented to his fans in this book as well as his last novel, The Great and Secret Show. His work has become longer, more involved and more mature, writing not necessarily of blood and guts horror but terrors that occur every day and plague individuals as well as the masses. Imajica also finds Barker indirectly addressing social issues such as feminism, the role of God in society, ambiguities of sexuality, and male dominance in society. 

Using modern England as a jumping off point, Barker weaves our reality with an alternate one; four other spheres that make up a complete realm known as the Imajica. Barker is able to use each of these worlds as a background for conflicts and horrors brought upon unsuspecting innocents as well as the well informed protagonists and antagonists. Through the main female character, Jude, Barker displays the power and prowess of women. Jude is only one of many strong female types in the book, the others being “common” women and goddesses. Barker portrays women with strength as well as vulnerability. They have control, limited only by their own inhibitions and self-esteem. Ultimately, the saving of the new worlds belongs to a woman.

Barker also takes an in-depth looks at sexuality, removing controversy out of the realm of reality and personifying it in the shape of one Pie Oh Pah, whose sex is determined by its lover: male, female or otherwise. Sex is no longer confined to male / female or same sex relations, but takes on a fantastic quality as Pie becomes whoever or whatever its lover wants it to be. This is the ultimate sexual fantasy, where there are no limits, and the mind is the main sexual organ. There is also a new Kama Sutra for these other worlds where lovers take each other into themselves, consuming one another wholly in the ultimate act of sexual bonding and love. Pleasure is more encompassing than just through the genitals. It is a total body experience, rooted in unselfishness and giving one’s soul completely to another person.

Barker also looks closely at the individual in this work. Using the literary craft of the doppelgänger, he is able to separate the good and the evil in people by showing them as two halves of the same whole. This magnifies the characteristics of both good and evil, making them easier to point out and understand. Human nature becomes less obscure and more easily recognizable as characters battle evil that is their own monsters from the depths of their souls.

Imajica combines magic and fear of the unknown, monsters and human beings who are at times difficult to tell apart, and it blends reality and fantasy into an epic tale of a struggle for power over a realm full of mystical dynasties, ruled by a castrated God whose only real power left is to destroy. As man strives in fear to tear down, it is woman who seeks to create and save humanity from its imminent destruction.

Join Barker as he takes you on a trip to worlds filled with new creatures and old problems. This fantastic journey through the realms of the Imajica will leave readers inspired and is one not to be missed.


Hocus Pocus

Kurt Vonnegut

Putnam Publishing Group

The ruined promise of America has finally succeeded in bringing down eternal optimist author Kurt Vonnegut. Indeed, Vonnegut’s latest effort, Hocus Pocus, is perhaps his most negative work—and one of his finest novels. 

Hocus Pocus concerns itself with the unified reminisces of Eugene Debs Hartke, named after one of America’s greatest unrecognized patriots, Eugene V. Debs (look him up—that’s what encyclopedias are for). It seems Hartke is staring at a prison sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. But rather than focusing on the crime, the story fixes on Hartke’s life and dissecting the persona of 20th Century America all the while.

The flow of the story may at first disconcert less attentive readers as Vonnegut’s protagonist writes his tale on slips of paper he finds in his surroundings, a former University library. As it so happens, this device works fabulously, allowing tremendous characterization and familiarity without resorting to more ham-fisted techniques. The resulting atmosphere draws the reader into the story and makes the feelings much more poignant. 

Indeed, the indictments against American society may leave many immature people angry, especially coming from as likable a character as Hartke. But this novel deserves to be read by right-wing and conservative ideologies who feel they “understand” America. Hartke is hardly ordinary, but he serves as an ideal “everyman,” living through American traditions like Vietnam, adultery, insanity, death, advancement through cheating, etc. 

Along the way, Vonnegut pokes fun at conservative talk show hosts and experts, Malcolm Forbes, the education of the wealthy, the sale of American institutions to foreign investors, and more. If handled in a clumsier manner obscured, both doled out in snippets, they are at once funny and observant. 

But Vonnegut is never heavy handed and even resorts to parodying himself with references to some of his less successful work, including the abysmal HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WANDA JUNE.

There are many moments of splendor to be found in Hocus Pocus, but they are best left up to interested readers to discover. Dealings with subjects like Vietnam may lead people to believe that the novel is a pessimistic experience, but handled by a master like Vonnegut, the reading is meaningful if not uplifting. As long as we Americans have honest observers like Vonnegut to tell it like it is, there is always hope. In the meantime, everyone should be reminded of the words of the book’s incidental character, Jack. S Patton: “I had to laugh like hell.”


For more Book Reviews from the SLUG Archives:

Review: Censorship Now!!
Review: The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait