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Daughter of Darkness (1972): Son of Ennui

J. R. Lowell, Daughter of Darkness (Dell, 1972)


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I actually like the other cover better, but this is the one I own…

It’s something of a truism in the book trade—or at least it was before the public caught on and publishers stopped doing it sometime in the eighties—that any book that was “blurbed” by some coffee-addled copywriter with some shtick like “the most terrifying book since [X]!” (or, worse, “in the tradition of [X]”, a phrase still occasionally used today, and it’s still the kiss of death, qualitywise) was guaranteed to be, at best, substandard. In the case of Lowell’s Daughter of Darkness (the “X” here, by the way, is Tryon’s The Other), the truism holds. This is a talky, tell-don’t-show monstrosity (Passages like “Matt studied her intently. For him, she was something wonderful. A miracle he never expected. He loved her more than he’d thought he could ever love again. He told her so now.” [–181] are unfortunately all too common) that might have been marginally creepy had the author(s—a bit of quick research on the net has just revealed to me that “J. R. Lowell”, who seem to have only written two books, were a pseudonymous husband-and-wife team; whether Jan Lowell is the same Jan Lowell responsible for the scripts of a number of B movies in the fifties and sixties remains unknown) showed and not told, but their Big Twist Ending (TM) is so badly foreshadowed that you should be able to come up with it in the first few chapters.

Plot: Matt Connolly (an editor), his wife Willamina (a concert pianist), and their daughter Willie are an outwardly happy family, and with the frequent presence of Matt’s best friend Jonathan, a professor of the occult and noted debunker, the four are a well-known unit in New York society. But one of them has a secret—Willie has a fascination with, and (she soon finds) a talent for, witchcraft. When Willamina begins to consider retiring from the stage, and she and Matt begin to plan a year-long second honeymoon that will land Willie in a Swiss school, she decides to turn her gift to re-molding the family in an image more to her liking.

There’s a lot of potential there, and even more when you rope in some of what could have been very promising subtextual scenes that in the end got used solely for plot advancement (there’s a scene where Willie, who is not only dealing with the whole witchery biz, but also puberty, goes to consult an obviously lesbian medium and her partner, which could have opened up whole cans of psychological worms, had not the lesbianism of the pair simply been used as a way to make them “quirky”). But the Lowells don’t seem to have even thought about that sort of thing—they had THIS story to tell, dammit, and would not be diverted from the path no matter what. Which is unfortunate, because the final product—which forty years later has faded into obscurity, and justly so—would have benefitted from it a great deal, methinks. * ½


About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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