Black Light

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Like her friends in upstate Kamensic, Charlotte, "Lit", Moylan is a child of privilege. Blessed with a famous father (Uncle Cosmo on "Tales of the Bar Sinister") and a notorious mother (soap queen Livia Prentiss), Lit is ready to enjoy one last, wild fling before college and adulthood. She is far from alone. In fact, the whole town is ready to party. Alex Kern is coming back to Kamensic. The legendary film director, who made his way to Hollywood via Warhol's "black light" scene, is going to reopen his fabulous ...
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Black Light

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Overview

Like her friends in upstate Kamensic, Charlotte, "Lit", Moylan is a child of privilege. Blessed with a famous father (Uncle Cosmo on "Tales of the Bar Sinister") and a notorious mother (soap queen Livia Prentiss), Lit is ready to enjoy one last, wild fling before college and adulthood. She is far from alone. In fact, the whole town is ready to party. Alex Kern is coming back to Kamensic. The legendary film director, who made his way to Hollywood via Warhol's "black light" scene, is going to reopen his fabulous mansion, Bolerium, for a party. But not just any party. The Halloween party of the decade... of the century. But other, more disturbing guests are arriving daily. They are seen at the edges of the forest, at the margins of the night: a great stag, extinct for two millennia; a horned man robed in blood; a forgotten god, lusting to tell a young girl what she desperately wants to hear. For Kern's connections extend far beyond Hollywood, beyond even the modern age... and in Bolerium's echoing halls a fearsome confrontation is gathering, between the ancient powers of the Malandanti and the immortals sworn to stop them at any cost, no matter what the sacrifice.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Elizabeth Hand's sixth novel, Black Light, rounds off a highly productive decade that began, in 1990, with the publication of Winterlong. This new book carries forward certain themes and characteristics that have marked Hand's writing throughout the decade and reinforces her position as one of the most stylish exponents of that distinctive brand of fantasy in which ancient myth and everyday reality come face-to-face.

Black Light is set in Kamensic Village, New York, a fictionalized version of Hand's childhood home in northern Westchester County. Kamensic, which is also the setting for a number of Hand's earlier short stories, is an insular, well-to-do community largely populated by members of the theatrical profession: actors, writers, set designers, et cetera. Kamensic's most famous — and notorious — citizen is Axel Kern, a Warhol-like movie director who is the absentee owner of Bolerium, an old, decaying mansion situated on top of nearby Muscanth Mountain. Kern's decision to return to Kamensic and open up Bolerium for a wild, no-holds-barred Halloween party to which everyone in town is invited provides Black Light with its colorful, and dramatic, center.

As the party approaches, 17-year-old Charlotte "Lit" Moylan, Kern's bright, privileged, sexually precocious goddaughter, begins seeing things — a giant, horned figure, half-human, half-elk; graphic, primitive images of human and animal sacrifice — that can't possibly be real. By the time Kern's party — fueled by its host's nearly endless supplies of alcohol and drugs—gets underway, it's become apparent that ancient, arcane forces have descended on Kamensic, which is about to become the locus of the latest manifestation of a venerable Dionysian rite.

In many respects, Black Light is a kind of companion volume to Hand's 1995 novel, Waking the Moon, which deals with the reemergence of the moon goddess, Othiym Lunarsa, into the patriarchal society of the 20th century. Both novels are concerned with the reawakened presence of pagan mystery cults in the modern world. Both feature prominent appearances by an esoteric order known as the Benendanti, a hidden army of occult scholars charged with keeping the ancient pagan forces of the old world — and the old gods — eternally at bay.

In Black Light, the town of Kamensic becomes the embodiment of the Sacred Grove of Dionysus, god of death, revelry, and illusion. Lit Moylan becomes the embodiment of Ariadne, the god's lover, handmaiden, and victim. And Axel Kern's Halloween party functions as a sort of stage scrim through which an older drama — the eternally recurring rituals of sex and blood sacrifice that give the gods their power and their potency — gradually becomes visible. Virtually the entire novel, with the exception of some carefully selected prefatory material, takes place during the course of this single, orgiastic party, and Hand explores the hallucinatory interplay between the various levels of the novel's reality with resourcefulness, artistry, and considerable style.

In the end, it is the small, human story of Lit Moylan and her successful attempts to free herself from a huge but constricting destiny — to step outside the confines of a preordained life and reinvent herself on her own idiosyncratic terms — that gives this novel a personal, emotional relevance that nicely balances its mythical, larger-than-life concerns. Like Tim Powers's Earthquake Weather, a very different kind of book with a similar set of mythical underpinnings, Black Light is about ordinary people caught up in the implacable purposes of gods. Like the best of Hand's earlier work, it is the product of a writer with a distinctive and adventurous talent and is written with an uncommon combination of grace and power and with the unrestrained intensity of a fever dream.

Bill Sheehan

Science Fiction Weekly
Hand deftly combines gorgeous prose, Lit's compelling voice, and an ending that is truly atypical of the books Black Light superficially seems to represent. In doing so, she sidesteps the usual horror cliches and creates a genre that is uniquely her own.
Gary K. Wolfe
...[Continues] Hand's ongoing Machen-like fascination with eruptions of Dionysian myth in the modern world....Hand does a terrific job with all her portentsportalsand transformations... —Locus
NY Times Book Review
Hand has never been more deft in setting the scene and introducing the combatants. Her challenge...is to sustain tension through what is essentially a book-length prologue to an apocalyptic climax.
New York Times Book Review
Hand has never been more deft in setting the scene and introducing the combatants. Her challenge...is to sustain tension through what is essentially a book-length prologue to an apocalyptic climax.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Hand does for upstate New York what Stephen King has done for rural Maine in this well-written but decidedly creepy dark fantasy about a Bohemian bedroom community and artists' colony located about an hour from Manhattan by train. Seventeen-year-old Charlotte "Lit" Moylan, the daughter of two successful but second-rate TV actors, has never thought much about the oddities of her home town of Kamensic--the strangely decorated Congregational Church, for example, or the community's unusual Halloween tradition, or the high number of suicides among the area's younger citizens. Although she looks forward to going away to college next year, she's basically content with her life. Then Kamensic's most notorious citizen returns to his roots. Alex Kern, the successful avant-garde film director, brings with him a reputation for scandalous, extravagant and decadent parties, replete with perverse sexuality and heavy drug use. His mazelike mansion, Bolerium, sits on the hill overlooking Kamensic like some dangerous predatory beast. Eventually Lit and, indeed, everyone in town receives an invitation to a party, a gala event that, Hand hints, may be nothing less than a prelude to the Apocalypse. Something of a latter-day Aubrey Beardsley in prose, Hand has a talent for portraying forbidding millennial settings brimming with perverse antiheroes, suffering innocents and sadistic demigods. This book, although not quite the equal of her last two novels, Waking the Moon and Glimmering, should strongly appeal to aficionados of sophisticated horror. (Apr.)
Library Journal
When film director Alex Kern returns to his mansion in the small New York town of Kamensic, his goddaughter, Charlotte Moylan, discovers that he is at the center of a sinister conspiracy. As dark forces gather to summon a god of chaos back into the world, others arrive to combat the shattering of the world. Hands lucid style captures the perceptions of a young womans coming of age in the midst of a confrontation with unearthly dangers. The latest dark fantasy novel by the award-winning author of Glimmering (LJ 3/15/97) belongs in most fantasy collections.
NY Times Book Review
Hand has never been more deft in setting the scene and introducing the combatants. Her challenge...is to sustain tension through what is essentially a book-length prologue to an apocalyptic climax.
Gary K. Wolfe
...[Continues] Hand's ongoing Machen-like fascination with eruptions of Dionysian myth in the modern world....Hand does a terrific job with all her portents, portals, and transformations...
Locus
Kirkus Reviews
In Hand's new fantasy, as in Waking the Moon (1995), two opposing groups of magicians, the Benandanti and the Malandanti, struggle to control human destiny. Kamensic is a spooky town, populated mostly by celebrities. High-school senior Charlotte "Lit" Moylan always felt like an outsider, but recently she's experienced unsettling presentiments and mystical visions. Sure enough, notorious movie director Axel Kern, Lit's godfather, has returned to his ancient, decaying mansion, Bolerium, to throw a Halloween party that everyone is commanded to attend. But at the entrance to Bolerium, Lit touches a phallic carving and is spellbound by horribly real-seeming visions involving hunting and bloody pagan rites. At the party, Professor Balthazar Warnick (we already know he's an immortal Benandante) claims she's the reincarnation of his lover, a Malandante whom he was forced to betray. As the party grows weirder yet—the film crews, drink, drugs, black lights, hallucinatory or perhaps occult occurrences, all bound up with ancient Dionysian rites—Lit learns that the entire town is dedicated to the Malandante. Her task is to sacrifice Axel, the avatar of Dionysos, so that the god may live again. Instead, she learns how to open the portals the magicians use to move instantly from place to place, and visits Warnick's remote Orphic Lodge. He pleads with Lit to stay but she refuses and returns to Bolerium to confront her destiny. Vivid, evocative, and well informed if heavily symbolic, with accurately limned teenaged characters; the problem's not so much a slender plot that doesn't cohere as the failure of the characters to adopt any recognizably purposeful course of action.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061052668
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/28/1999
  • Edition description: 1st U.S. Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.49 (w) x 9.59 (h) x 1.18 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Helter Skelter



My mother claimed to have been on the set of Darkness Visible when Axel Kern fired a revolver into the air, not to goad his actors but out of frustration with a scriptgirl who repeatedly handed him the wrong pages, My mother had, indeed, very briefly worked as a scriptgirl for Kern--this was before she settled into her eternal and prosperous run as Livia on Perilous Lives--so it wasn't considered good form to doubt her, or even to demonstrate normal curiosity upon hearing the anecdote repeated whenever the subject of artistic temperaments arose; which, in our family, was often.

My father was friends with Kern long before Axel became a world-famous director. When I was born in 1957, Kern was my godfather. When I was a child he was around our house a good deal, and my parents dined often at Bolerium, his vast decaying estate atop Muscanth Mountain. But as I grew older Kern stayed less often in Kamensic, and by the time I was a teenager it had been years since I'd seen him. He and my father had a long history, as drinking buddies and fellow members of a loosely allied, free-floating group of bibulous Broadway and Hollywood people. Most of them are dead now; certainly their vices have gone out of style, except as veteris vestigia flammoe. Only Kern made the leap gracefully from the old Hollywood to the new, which in those days wasn't Hollywood at all, but New York: Radical Chic New York, Andy Warhol's Factory New York, Black Light New York.

He was always a seeker after the main chance, my godfather. When, for a moment in the late '60s it looked as though the movie industry was turning back tothe city--where, of course, it had begun when the century was new, in warehouses and a brownstone on East Fourteenth Street--well, then Axel moved back, too, inhabiting a corner of a Bowery block that could best be described not so much as crumbling as collapsed. Exposed beams and girders laced with rust, sagging tin ceilings that exposed the building's innards: particle board and oak beams riddled with dry rot and carpenter ants. The place was infested with vermin, rats and mice and bugs and stray cats; but there were also people living in the rafters, extras from the stream of low-budget experimental films Axel was filming in the city. Some had followed Axel out from the West Coast, but most of them were young people who had been living on the street, or in tenth-floor walk-ups in a part of the city that was light-years away from being gentrified. Speed freaks with noms du cinema like Joey Face and Electric Velvet; trustfund junkies like Caresse "Kissy" Hardwick and her lover Angelique; a bouquet of sometime prostitutes, male and female, who named themselves after flowers: Liatris, CeCe Anemone, Hazy Clover. They were young enough, and there were enough of them, that Rex Reed christened Axel's production space the Nursery. The name stuck.

In the movies Axel shot back then--Skag, Creep, House of the Sleeping Beauties--you can see how a lot of those people were barely out of junior high school. Joey Face for one, and CeCe, were only a few years older than I was, with acne scars still visible beneath their Bonne Bell makeup and eyeliner inexpertly applied. None of them were beauties, except for Kissy Hardwick, who possessed the fragile greyhound bone structure and bedrock eccentricity of very old New England money. Axel seemed drawn to them solely by virtue of their youth and appetites: for food (the gloriously obese Wanda LaFlame); for amphetamines and heroin (Kissy, Joey, Page Franchini); for sex (everybody). In Hollywood, Axel had been legendary for always bringing his projects in under budget; quite a feat when you consider movies like Saragossa or You Come, Too, with their lavish costumes and soundstages that recreated Malaga during the Inquisition or fifteenth century Venice. Now, in New York, he was famous for letting a Super 8 camera run for six hours at a stretch in a blighted tenement loft, and having the results look as garishly archaic as Fellini Satyricon.

I visited the Nursery only once, for a Christmas party when I was twelve. Traditionally my parents held a party at our house in Kamensic, rich plum pudding-y parties where the children ran around in velvet dresses and miniature suit jackets and the grownups drank homemade eggnog so heavily spiked with brandy that a single glass was enough to set them off, playing riotously at blindman's buff and charades, singing show tunes and "The Wessex Mummer's Carol." Axel Kern was usually a guest at these holiday gatherings, but by 1969 he had set up shop at the Nursery and wanted to throw his own party there. In keeping with the pagan tenor of the times, it was a solstice celebration and not a Christmas party; but really it wasn't even that. It was a rout.

This was before my father achieved his commercial success as TV's Uncle Cosmo. He was signed to do summer rep at the Avalon Shakespeare Theater in Connecticut, and my mother was on one of her infrequent sabbaticals from Perilous Lives, Livia having shaved her raven tresses and joined an Ursuline convent in the French countryside. The birth of a new decade, 1969 swandiving into 1970, seemed almost as propitious as the birth of a new century. Radio DJs rifled through the hits of the last ten years and analyzed them as though they were tarot cards. In health class we watched grainy films that showed teenagers who took LSD, staring transfixed at candle flames ("look at the pretty blue flower!') before they went mad and were trundled off to the loony bin in an ambulance.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 4, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Tripping the Dark Fantastic

    In a nutshell, if you like atmospheric, evocative explorations into the human condition, in a time and place not too long ago, this is the book for you.
    Elizabeth Hand takes us on a journey to Kamensic, Maine, where life is idyllic at best. A town full of actors, actresses, artisans, and musicians. We are introduced to Kamensic circa 1970 where we meet young Charlotte "Lit" Moylan at a party in a mansion called Bolerium. It is a fantastic place of sights and smells, of party revelers, of debauchery hinted at but not quite seen. In the middle of this is one Axel Kern, friend of the Moylan family, godfather to Lit. He's a filmmaker and a madman...and something more.
    As time goes on and Lit grows to teenage-hood, her godfather has returned to Kamensic to begin a new film project, and to open Bolerium up once again, and throw a party to end all of his previous efforts. Lit is caught up in a series of encounters that boggle the mind - there were times I started to wonder if Hand had dropped acid as she was writing as her set pieces became more and more fantastic. There are mysterious orders, the Benandanti and the Malandanti, both hinted at tantalizingly; one can't help but want to know more about them and how they play into the melange Hand so skillfully creates.
    What is Lit's place in all of this? That is where the mystery so beautifully lies.
    Is there anything really horrific about Black Light?
    At times, yes.
    At it's heart, it's a coming of age story about a young woman presented with a future that has been predestined for her...or has it?

    I've read other novels by Hand and am never disappointed at the way she weaves words together. Allow me to cite this paragraph:
    Everything gleamed with a primal intensity: the crimson and indigo of the carpet so saturated they looked wet, the gold letters on the spines of books sparkling like flame. Decanters on a small round table glowed as if they held paint rather than liqueurs - emerald green, blood-red, sunflower yellow. A daybed was heaped with tapestried pillows and there was a small cast-iron woodstove set into one wall, its isinglass window glowing beneath one of several beautifully carved plaques inscribed with Latin phrases...

    Black Light is a voyage into the dark fantastic, some of the finer dark fantasy writing available today.
    Try Elizabeth Hand. You won't be disappointed.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2000

    A great story.

    A great story that will keep you intersted until the very end. Ms. Hand is a great writer who is able to create fantastic stories which keep you on the edge of your seat. When you get to the last page you'll be so disapointed that there isn't more to read. I gcouldn't put it down.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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