The 37th Mandala

Marc Laidlaw, Author
Marc Laidlaw, Author St. Martin's Press $23.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-312-13021-3
Reviewed on: 07/03/1995
Release date: 07/01/1995
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Attempts to achieve a genuine sense of awe are rare in contemporary horror. So Laidlaw (The Orchid Eater) is to be complimented for making the effort in his new novel, even though it falls short of its visionary ambitions. The titular mandalas, clearly influenced by Lovecraft, are both extradimensional ``organisms'' and symbolic ``archetypes of decay'' that manifest in our world as 37 distinct designs. When New Age hack writer Derek Crowe pilfers the manuscript in which they appear and rewrites it as a book of bromides for the crystal-gazing crowd, he inadvertently creates a cult of believers that attracts the evil entities from across the terrestrial threshold. Crowe's struggle to deal with what he has wrought brings him into contact with a wildly varied cast of characters, including a woman who becomes a physical embodiment of the worst mandala and a Cambodian refugee who seeks to control the mandalas for his own purposes. Describing the unspeakable is a daunting task, but Laidlaw rises to it, creating a manifestation of the unearthly that is both accessible and impenetrably alien. Yet the novel's cosmic scope never quite comes to life, as the sense of menace generated by the mandalas remains embedded in the individual dramas of the novel's characters. The result is a superior tale of human beings in thrall to occult forces, but one whose reach exceeds its grasp. (Feb.)
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