Harvey's 10 and bored, and weirdness begins

December 07, 1992|By Judith Wynn | Judith Wynn,Contributing Writer

Harvey Swick is just 10 years old and already bored to tears especially in February, which is when British-born writer Clive Barker ("Imajica" and "The Great and Secret Show") begins this shivery, captivating fable-novel.

Poor Harvey vows to curl up and die if he doesn't have some fun pretty soon. Just then the wind opens his bedroom window, and in hops an imp who whisks Harvey away to the beautiful gardens of Holiday House.

Here, as in such children's classics as "Through the Looking-Glass" and "The Wizard of Oz," a "normal" youngster finds himself in a wonderland that eerily reflects the "sane" world left behind. Mr. Barker -- who lives in Los Angeles and writes

movie scripts -- sets up his enchanted kingdom with plenty of wit and atmosphere. Unfortunately, he resolves his boy-hero's predicament in pat, mechanical, Indiana-Jones-punches-his-way-out-of-the-Temple- of-Doom fashion.

Harvey likes Holiday House right away. Each morning, it's springtime with all the new buds bursting. Afternoons are glorious summers spent playing in a wonderful treehouse. With dusk comes Halloween and a witch who can turn Harvey and his young fellow guests into any kind of vampire or monster they dream up.

Supper is Thanksgiving dinner, then it's time to open the Christmas gifts. And so it goes -- day after day. To make everything perfect, Harvey calls home and gets his parents' permission to stay as long as he wants. "We thought you needed a little fun," Mother explains.

Of course there's a worm in this apple, and the author wastes no time drawing it forth. Mrs. Griffin, the kindly old housekeeper at Holiday House, is forever sighing over the transience of happiness, and another little guest named Lulu seems downright suicidal. Creepiest of all is the hovering, unseen presence of Mr. Hood, who owns Holiday House.

At last the bill for this fantastic vacation arrives, as bills must. Harvey grabs his lazy, cowardly new friend, Wendell, and the two boys high-tail it back home, much to Mr. Hood's fury. At home again with his parents, Harvey discovers that his adventure has cost him a lot more than he expected. So off he goes to Holiday House with ineffectual Wendell in tow to recover what he thinks is due him and -- incidentally -- to rescue Mrs. Griffin and Lulu.

At this point "The Thief of Always" becomes a very American fable: i.e., Yes, you can have your cake and eat it, too. (The Hollywoodization of Hans Christian Andersen's melancholy fairy tale, "The Little Mermaid," comes to mind). It would have been interesting to learn how Mr. Hood got into his strange symbiotic relationship with children. But Mr. Barker chooses to keep things simple and leave the spotlight on Harvey Swick, who seems too ordinary to be the remarkable boy that the residents of Holiday House say he is.

BOOK REVIEW

Title: "The Thief of Always."

Author: Clive Barker.

Publisher: HarperCollins.

Length, price: 277 pages, $20.

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