by Jacob Israel
Review by Randy Radic
Tate Publishing Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781606048412
Date: 30 December 2008 List Price $17.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Allegory has always fascinated me, especially when it's used in stories that, on the surface, aren't necessarily religious. They're simply stories. For example, C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, which, superficially, is an exceptional fantasy-story, intended for young adults. Whereas once the template of allegory is placed on the story, certain arcane energies begin to emerge. In the example at hand – Chronicles of Narnia – the story takes on epic proportions. It is the Biblical tale of Jesus and his death and resurrection.
Conrad's Heart of Darkness, too, is allegorical in nature. Anyway, that's what I was taught in high school. My response to this edification was, "Okay. Whatever you say. But I still think it's a really sweet book about a European guy, who gets in way over his head in Africa."
Very recently, Jacob Israel wrote a book that can be read two different ways. For one, it could be an occult thriller, like a horror story written by Stephen King. The Shining comes to mind immediately. For two, it's allegorical, speaking about the pitfalls of religion (in the worst sense of the word). It's entitled The Calling: A Voice in the Dead Woods, which is a reference to confrontation. Either way you read the book – as a horror story or as a religious allegory – it recounts the confrontation of good versus evil.
The story takes place in the immediate future, and is post-apocalyptic. Dr. Vince Manus is the charismatic leader of the new dominion over the earth. Although beguiling to most of the world, in reality, Manus is something else altogether – a psychic cannibal, a soul eater. And those who choose to follow him are nothing more than dupes, who have allowed a skillful rhetorician to manipulate them. Manus keeps them in thrall by giving them what they think they want – material goods and security.
There exist a few brave souls who see through Manus' tricks and lies. Thomas James is one of these seers. Thomas fights back in what becomes a War of Words – commitment versus fear. Those who resist Manus soon find themselves incarcerated in Legirion Psychiatric Institute, where they are re-programmed by means of brainwashing. In his novel, Jacob Israel takes these threads and weaves them into an exciting and very human story. And assuming (in hindsight) that all the names in The Calling have allegorical significance, I assigned Thomas James attributes from both of Jesus' disciples (later Apostles): doubting Thomas and James, who was the half-brother of Jesus. James, being skeptical of Jesus, became a later convert. So in The Calling, Thomas James doubts himself, but later converts to trusting in the power that is in him.
That being said, I wonder if I'm right. Perhaps Jacob Israel will have mercy on this poor, dumb sinner and tell me. Which brings up another point. Is the author's name allegorical? I mean in Scripture Jacob's name was changed to Israel (Prince of God). So is the author's name really Billy Bob Smith and he changed his name too? For allegorical continuity? Or am I just becoming paranoid?
Happily for the story, Thomas James and his nemesis, Manus, are believable characters. One is good, although not ooey-gooey perfect, which gets really boring really fast. In other words, Thomas James is a real, flawed human being – he makes mistakes and doesn't know everything. The other character – Manus – is bad, although not totally malignant. Manus actually believes his way is the only correct and sensible way. And since we all know people like that in our own lives, we can swallow the fact that people like that really do exist.
I have to confess that I read The Calling as a horror story, with just a sprinkle of saintliness here and there, which really gave me the chills. Which speaks volumes for Jacob Israel's writing skills. He doesn't let his story spiral out of control and descend into the sucking morass of Gothic overkill, ala Lovecraft. Instead, he deftly molds the elements of the story, building tension, ala Bram Stoker. Remember? There was this really irresistible undercurrent of religious faith in Dracula – crucifixes and the power of prayer, especially. And all the good guys were always invoking the name of God. Great stuff!
Jacob Israel has done that too. He's spun this filament of pure, white light through the darkness. And it really grips the reader.
After I finished the book, Jacob Israel's informed me that there's a lot of allegory in The Calling. And when I thought about it (after being enlightened), I realized thatThe Calling could be read that way. My only excuse for not seeing it is that I was too engrossed in reading a darned good horror story.
If you choose to read it allegorically, that's fine. Or if, like me, you read it as just a horror story, that's fine too. But either way, I doubt – like doubting Thomas in the Bible – you'll be able to put it down. It's a real, old-fashioned page-turner. And in today's world, that's hard to come by.
So to paraphrase the little boy in the television commercial, "Buy it. You'll like it."