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Spotlight on: Afterlife by Douglas Clegg

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Afterlife by Douglas Clegg Douglas Clegg, Afterlife

The first book of Douglas Clegg's that I read was his Bram Stoker Award–winning short story collection The Nightmare Chronicles, which I found to be stunning in its breadth and depth of subject matter and one of the best collections I'd ever read. Hoping that Clegg's novels would simply be longer, more sustained examples of that talent, I looked forward to reading more of his work.

Luckily, he was offering a serial of one of his older novels, Dark of the Eye, in his newsletter, and I read that one with eagerness. But, when it came to actually spending more money, I was stuck. I couldn't decide what the next one was going to be. He writes in many different genres (and he's admirably prolific), so there were many to choose from. Should I read a Harrow novel or a standalong; an older one or a more recent offering; one under his own name, or an Andrew Harper?

Clegg's recent novel Afterlife basically chose itself. Perusing one of the many bookstores I frequent, it all but jumped out at me from the shelf, with the contrasting black and white colors difficult to avoid. The cover is stunning, as well, with that door to what can only be a padded room, and the floating skull in the foreground, it offers a sense of things to come without giving too much away.

Which is what I'm going to attempt, because Afterlife is difficult to summarize. There's a fairly straightforward storyline, but its many character revelations make the decision regarding what to mention and what to hold back difficult. Focusing on the one storyline really makes things move. It's a fast-paced, pocket-sized read.

In the 1970s, a school called the Daylight Project, for children with special abilities, burned down. Now, someone is killing the survivors. One of the recent victims is Janet Hutchinson's husband, Jeff, known as "Hut" and she is left in care of his son Matt and their daughter Livy. Meanwhile, questions about the Hut she thought she knew keep cropping up and she begins to investigate the significance of (and connections among) a red-headed woman who appears on a videotape; a key to the mysterious room 66S; Hut's first wife Amanda, who has voluntarily locked herself in a mental hospital; and renowned author and pop psychic Michael Diamond.

Julie goes through a wrenching nightmare-filled grief process that Clegg chronicles with his usual heightened sensitivity. (No suffering just for the sake of it here; you're going to be right in Julie's head all the way.) Clegg skill at dramatizing Julie's different emotions, as she goes through the Five Stages, stands right up there with Bridge to Terabithia in its realism and lack of exploitation.

Afterlife definitely has a different feel to it than Clegg's more "horrific" work. There is plenty of tension, but not the ultra-disturbing subject matter that he often covers, making it ideal for those curious folk in the mainstream. (Certainly, it's the one book of his that I've seen in every bookstore I've been in lately.) And existing Clegg fans will still find his distinctive voice. It's only flaw is an ambiguous ending that, perhaps inadvertently, leaves the door wide open for a sequel. But, then again, is yet another Clegg novel ever cause for lament?

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