I'm reading through three lists of best horror with two friends (DeAnna Knippling andM.B. Partlow), posting reviews as we go. (For more information, including a list of the books, see this post.) To see the books I've reviewed so far, you can view the list at the end of this post where I rank them.
This week I'm reviewing Penpal, by Dathan Auerbach.
This book was okay. It had the elements of an amazingly creepy story, yet it didn't deliver. There was an insane amount of unnecessary exposition that slowed the story too much for me. Details that never ended up having a point.
Penpal is about a boy who went through some scary things, but it's told from the perspective of adult him, looking back. The way the story unravels, mundane things are set up and built upon until later in the story, where we find out deeper meanings to them. Knowing that he's looking back on this as an adult severely lowered the tension for me. He obviously survived if he's the one telling the story. So I was never worried about him, and if I couldn't worry about him, knowing he grew up, then what was there to be scared of?
Near the end, others are put in danger. For me, this was the only time I felt any tension. At that point, I read the book much faster than I had been previously.
Because of the way this was written, I hesitate to give too much away. I can say there were creepy details, ones that I could think, "Ah, that's a great detail," but they fell flat because of the storytelling style.
In the end, I so badly wanted those freaky details to pan out, but they didn't. Yes, the truth of what happened when he was a kid was frightening when I thought about it, but I had to think about it... I had to work to be freaked out, and even then it was, "Oh, yeah, wow, that could have been bad." I even tried to identify with what the mother must have been feeling, considering she knew how much danger he'd been in, but she's a teeny minor character, and it wasn't possible.
Interesting fact: This began as a series of posts on nosleep on Reddit.
My new rankings:
1. The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)
2. The Bottoms (Joe R. Lansdale)
3. Coraline (Neil Gaiman)
4. A Choir of Ill Children (Tom Piccirilli)
5. The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2010 (Paula Guran)
6. The Year’s Best Fantasy: First Annual Collection (Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling)
7. Those Who Hunt the Night (Barbara Hambly)
8. Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror (Ellen Datlow)
9. The Stranger (Albert Camus)
10. Dead in the Water (Nancy Holder)
11. The Damnation Game (Clive Barker)
12. The Wolf's Hour (Robert McCammon)
13. Berserk (Tim Lebbon)
14. Best New Horror, Volume 1 (edited by Stephen Jones and Ramsey Campbell)
15. The Tomb (F. Paul Wilson)
16. Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy)
17. The Imago Sequence (Laird Barron)
18. My Soul to Keep (Tananarive Due)
19. Penpal (Dathan Auerbach)
20. World War Z (Max Brooks)
21. From the Dust Returned (Ray Bradbury)
21. The Red Tree (Caitlin R. Kiernan)
23. In Silent Graves (Gary A. Braunbeck)
24. The Cipher (Kathe Koja)
25. Drawing Blood (Poppy Z. Brite)
26. The Doll Who Ate His Mother (Ramsey Campbell)
27. Hotel Transylvania (Chelsea Quinn Yarbro)
The next book I'll be reading on the list is Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca.
Have you read this? Have you ever read something on nosleep on Reddit? What about contributing to it?
May you find your Muse.