Like every other decade, the seventies was an era of good and bad books. We had Vonnegut, Kozinski, Mailer, Irving, Updike. There were modern, hip writers like Thompson, Bukowski, and Casdaneda. Genre fiction was exploding with wild titles by Dick, Ellison, King, Straub, Pohl, Le Guin, Spinrad. And there were a lot of trashy bestsellers who outsold nearly all of them. Ellison called them Creative Typists: Sheldon, Jong, Susanne, Collins.

C. Terry Cline's debut novel, Damon, fell somewhere in the midst of all that excess. While the novel is nearly forgotten today, it was quite the rage when it was originally published in 1975. I remember a friend had a copy, and he regailed me with lurid details about the book. He tried to lend it to me, but I wasn't about to be persuaded into reading some prurient garbage. I was a science fiction fan, thank you very much.

I more or less forgot about Damon for a long time, though I heard it brought up now and then. King wrote of the novel in disparaging ways in Danse Macabre, claiming Cline to be a terrible writer at that point, but who managed to get better in time.

I read a couple of C. Terry Cline books from the eighties and I thought they were really good. Prey and Quarry both deal with serial killers and they are gripping and above-average of their kind.

I happened upon a beat-to-shit hardcover of Damon at a library sale a year or so ago. It has obviously been read many times. The book's spine is split and loose. It still has the glued-in slip for checkout date stamps in the back, and there are a lot of them. I paid the buck for it, and stuck it on a shelf.

I decided to give Damon a shot this weekend.

Well, King isn't wrong when he said the writing in Damon is wretched. The novel is written in a graceless, stark style, and there are numerous shocking scenes.

Damon is a four-year-old boy with mental and physical problems. He has a condition with enlarged glands, and is endowed in monstrous proportions. He is telepathic. Damon has fugue spells, engages in horrific antisocial acts, and is prone to rage. He also appears to have a separate personality within him.

A psychiatrist is assigned to evaluate Damon's case, and to try to heal him. Despite his horrible behavior, Damon is an innocent who only knows the things he picks up from the minds of people he meets. The subject and the physician embark on a war of wills. A mounting question arises: which party is in greater need of healing?

Damon, the novel, is a blatant attempt to cash in on the outrage and phenomenal success of The Exorcist, in which a child is involved in salacious situations. There are some truly jaw-dropping sections in the novel. I don't believe any mainstream publisher would touch the book if it were written today.

Whether Damon is exploitative or a legitimate psychological study is up to the reader. I honestly think it's a bit of both. Cline drops a lot of 70's mumbo-jumbo psych talk, and there is seemingly endless discussions peppered with medical jargon. I think it was supposed to give Damon an air of respectability. I do think, however, it wasn't necessary to have quite so many over-the-top scenes. This is a story about a kid, for God's sake.

I cringed a lot, from the writing as much as from the incredibly repellent elements of Damon. Yet I did continue to read on. I was just interested enough to find out the secrets of Damon and his doctor.

I can't quite recommend Damon. The content would surely repel many readers, and the wooden prose will turn off many more. I can at least, and at last, say my curiosity about the book has been sated.

Written by Mark Sieber

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