cover image The Great and Secret Show: The First Book of the Art

The Great and Secret Show: The First Book of the Art

Clive Barker. HarperCollins Publishers, $19.95 (550pp) ISBN 978-0-06-016276-4

Early in his new epic novel, Barker describes the thoughts of one of his characters as ``barbaric and baroque''--and the words fairly sum up the book. Down-and-outer Randolph Jaffe works in the dead-letter office in Omaha. Reading through the mass of mail, he finds clues to an alternative reality, the laws of which are called ``the Art.'' Mastering these principles, he becomes powerful but evil, and presses into service a man named Fletcher, who synthesizes a transforming drug, the Nuncio. Later understanding the corrupting nature of his creation, Fletcher rebels against Jaffe, and the two, now demigods, engage in a cosmic struggle. To enlist allies, each sires offspring (using the seed of mortal men), and their spiritual children help to carry on the bizarre battle. Though diverting, the novel is something of a potboiler, and despite its pervasive horrific imagery, it fails even to frighten us--or invite us to suspend disbelief. This is the first book of a projected trilogy. 100,000 first printing; $125,000 ad/promo; Preferred Choice Book plan main selection; author tour. (Feb.)