In Neverland, by Douglas Clegg, ten-year-old Beau Jackson returns to Gull Island, South Carolina every summer with his bickering parents and twin sisters for a two week long visit with equally cantankerous relatives. He has an elderly wheelchair-bound grandmother, his aunt and uncle and their troubled son Sumter with which to contend. The house is creepy and amidst the constant fighting amongst the family, the children are left under the care of a teenage babysitter, who seems to understand more about the children and the island than she lets on. Sumter introduces Beau to an enigmatic presence called Lucy that seems to dwell in a covered box in a shed in the woods, called Neverland, surrounding their home. One by one all of the kids fall under the influence of Lucy and Neverland, and it seems as if Beau might be the only one with enough knowledge of the situation to prevent a tragedy.
My first foray into the writing of Douglas Clegg was with Isis, his intriguing Gothic novella, which left me struck by the beauty of the writing but scratching my head at the end. While I wasn’t sure what to think about the story of Isis,the quality writing on the part of the author had me looking forward to reading one of his novel length works. Once again, the writing didn’t fail and I was taken by Clegg’s command of the language which he used to foreshadow, imbue character, build suspense, and add to a creepy atmosphere where you expect that just about anything can happen. One of the strengths of this novel is the slow building tension and the hints that something is just not right with this family and with the enchanted and possibly slave haunted island. I loved the way that piece of the story unfolded.
In Neverland, Clegg combines family and supernatural horror with mixed results. Careful attention is paid to character building and planting clues with the reader – leaving us in a tortured tangle of half-baked suspicions and theories. I loved the relationship that Beau had with his father, and the children gathering to discuss their family and just what might happen to all of them. I was disappointed in how long it took for something to happen. The heavy atmosphere might have contributed to te way time seems to move in the book. It felt like the family had been there much longer than a few weeks.
The suspense was nice, but it lingered a moment too long and I didn’t feel my patience was rewarded by the end. The resolution left me with mixed feeling about what kind of story was being told, and elements that might have worked for one of those choices seemed preposterous for the other. If you are looking for literary horror, Clegg definitely fits the bill, unfortunately I haven’t found the story of his that clicks fully with me. Neverland’s promising start couldn’t rescue the ending for me, which was a bit muddled and disappointing