WHEN DARKNESS LOVES US by Elizabeth Engstrom


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Two unshapely, often-amateurish horror tales--one a longish short-shory with vaguely supernatural touches, the other a crude novella-length study of psychosexual mania. ""When Darkness Loves Us"" is the shorter effort--about Sally Hixson, a pregnant farm-bride at 16 who is accidentally trapped in an underground cave. In this cave-world, Sally Ann communes with the ghost of a dead sweetheart, gives birth to baby Clint, and supposedly lives contentedly for 20 years; then she returns to the upper world, learns that her husband has remarried (Sally Ann's vile sister), and steals a girl-child to become son Clint's underworld bride; and finally, after a doomed attempt to introduce her old husband to cave-life, Sally Ann gives up on reconciling the two worlds. Is all this the dead or dying Sally Ann's dream? Is it sci-fi-ish fantasy? Or meant to be read as a realistic ordeal-drama? Engstrom herself doesn't seem quite sure--and the story is too earthbound for Twilight Zoning, much too thinly developed for anything like Wells-ian fantasy, merely silly in realistic terms. ""Beauty Is"" is more coherent, if only slightly more satisfying, as it centers on Martha Mannes--middle-aged, homely (with a misshapen nose), retarded but fairly self-sufficient, living alone on the family farm now that her prosperous parents have both died. Flashbacks fill in the Mannes family-history: the faith-healer powers of Martha's mother Fern (resented by husband Harry); the birth of nose-less Martha, with only semi-successful attempts at plastic surgery; Harry's cruel rejection of little Martha, soon regarded as brain-damaged. Meanwhile, the middle-aged Martha is becoming un-retarded--thanks largely to the affectionate, sexual attentions of her kind young handyman. But when the nasty doings of some evil young-folk flash Martha back to her father's greatest cruelties, there's a violent fadeout--straining for horrific pathos, winding up only as ludicrous grossness. Despite hints of creepy imagination here and there: an awkward debut.

Pub Date: Feb. 21st, 1984
ISBN: 0982159668
Publisher: Morrow