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Spotlight on: The Nightmare Chronicles by Douglas Clegg

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The Nightmare Chronicles by Douglas Clegg Douglas Clegg, The Nightmare Chronicles

Considering the fact that I primarily bought this in order to get Amazon.com's free shipping offer on my 2005 Writer's Market, I am extremely impressed. Douglas Clegg begins his first short story collection with a clever idea and it just keeps getting better from there on. The Nightmare Chronicles is one of the most accomplished collections I've read in years. As a practitioner of psychological horror firmly rooted in a remarkable sense of place, he has no peer.

I was instantly swept away by the wraparound story of a kidnapped child who inflicts nightmares on his captors (that they have no idea what they've gotten themselves into is made painfully clear), and it segues smoothly into the inaugural tale (or "nightmare"), "Underworld." Not only is it a horrific tale of love lost, but Clegg's portrayal of conflicting emotions in his protagonist is also an extra layer that taps into the potential reality of the situation -- you know, what gets the reader personally involved in the story.

Short stories don't always give me what I want out of an author, but they are an excellent way to experiment. Usually I just skip around, reading at random -- and sometimes I don't even finish the book -- but The Nightmare Chronicles is simply amazing. Episodic in its structure, each story, at first, leads into the wraparound, pulling the reader gently into the next. It really is a bit like a rollercoaster: the first few stories need the wraparound for connective tissue, but once the first peak is reached, each story just comes at you faster and faster until, before you know it, you've reached the suitably twisted ending and the only thing you want to do is get right back in line for another round.

Clegg probes the horrors of everyday life: love, growth, death, sex, family, freedom, religion, obsession, obligation, the unfamiliar, and the inevitable all get the going-over in The Nightmare Chronicles, sometimes in the same story. And even though horror often requires a suspension of disbelief just to get past the first page, you'll find none of the usually preposterous situations that often occur in other authors' works (like Dean Koontz's, who submits a cover blurb that is as overwrought as his own novels). In short, there is none of the usual stupidity that we all hate at all in here. In fact, Clegg comes across as someone who is particularly intelligent and expects nothing less from his readers. I haven't read a short story collection that got me so excited about a new (to me) author since F. Paul Wilson's Soft and Others and I'm nothing but excited about the prospect of reading Clegg's novels.

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