Sunday, October 14, 2012

Wonder twin powers ACTIVATE!

Red Rain
by R. L. Stine

The pop culture reference above has probably already alerted you to the fact that I'm a good decade older than the kids who grew up reading R.L. Stine--which is not to say that I haven't read his kid lit. I'm that kind of adult. And let me put out there that I have nothing but respect for this talented author, so youthful Stine fans, please don't beat me up for the following review. Yes, it's critical, but I'll support my criticism.

Stine's latest foray into writing for adults is of limited success. First, a brief synopsis: After a prologue, we follow the exploits of "adventure travel blogger" Lea Harmon Sutton as she visits the mysterious Cape Le Chat Noir off the coast of South Carolina. It's a beautiful part of the country, but apparently no one visits due to the island's spooky reputation. Says Lea in a blog post:
"I've saved the best (or worst) for last. Here's the most interesting historical detail--and it's definitely creepy. Especially with frightening forecasts of a big hurricane heading this way. I don't want to talk about the hurricane now. I'm pretending it's not going to happen. You see, Le Chat Noir was devastated by one of the most powerful storms in hurricane history. It was the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935. And I have every finger crossed that history is not going to repeat itself now."
Okay, we're going to return and look at the quote above more closely in a minute, but for now we'll move on. In short, you'll be shocked to learn that the hurricane hits. At this point, we are introduced to Lea's husband Mark, a child psychologist who is just wrapping up the book tour for his best-selling (if controversial) book about child rearing. He gets a panicked call from Lea in the hurricane while he's on stage at a book signing. He can't wait to wrap things up and head home to Sag Harbor and their two kids and his single mother sister to await further news from Lea.

Back to Le Chat Noir... The devastation is complete and Lea is traumatized. In the midst of the "horror," Lea encounters two angelic blonde 12-year-old twins, Daniel and Samuel. They tell her that they've lost their parents and home in the hurricane. Lea is instantly smitten with these two kids and decides on the spot that she's going to "adopt" them (in the completely illegal sense of the word) and take them back to New York:
"Later Martha warned her that she was being too hasty. `You don't know anything about these boys. You are acting on pure emotion. You need to wait till you can think about it clearly. Do some research. Try to find out something about them.'"
Ah, if only. Lea proceeds over the strenuous objections of her husband. We're now at 20% of the book, and at this point the story actually starts. What follows is a evil twin/bad seed mash-up with an utterly ridiculous supernatural twist. And I guess what I have to say about the novel is: There isn't enough willing suspension of disbelief in the world.

Let's return to that first quote I pulled. A few observations... Visiting a spooky island is considered adventure travel? And the fact that there was once a terrible hurricane is "the most interesting historical detail" a travel writer can come up with about the place? Meanwhile, with the island's history, another major storm is forecast and there isn't a single mention of evacuating in advance of it? And then, if you're an adventure writer who went into this scenario with your eyes wide open, to completely lose your mind in the aftermath? Finally, a past hurricane is considered "definitely creepy"? That will give you an idea of the level of horror in the novel.

Throughout the novel, I had big, big problems with believability of events and characters' actions, and that was before the supernatural even came into it. But there were many other problems. As noted above, this is supposedly a horror novel, and I am admittedly the biggest wimp alive. While there were occasionally gross-out scenes, there wasn't a single scary moment in the book. Part of me wondered if this was supposed to be some sort of horror satire, because I know that R.L. Stine is a truly funny man. If so, I missed the humor entirely. This book is notably un-funny.

And, I'm sorry to say, it is badly written. The more traumatized the characters became, the more cringe-worthy their dialogue. I could quote, but I'll spare you. And on the subject of dialogue, let's talk about redundancy. Three separate times, Mark confronts the eavesdropping twins asking "How long have you two been standing there?" within less than 100 pages. Who was editing this book? Because there were also flat out errors. At one point Mark states that he hadn't seen his wife in "a week" when it had been, like, a day and a half. At another point Martha claims that a priest who held a ceremony in 1935 "told" her something. Well, I suppose it's possible, but it seems highly unlikely.

Individually, none of these issues are deal-breakers, but when you have flaw on top of flaw, it gets awfully hard to immerse yourself in a story, and virtually impossible to believe it. Despite these many criticisms, I will say this: It wasn't a terrible reading experience. The book moved quickly. It was both well-paced and also relatively short, with brief chapters and lots of white space on the pages. I read the book in just a few hours, and while I can't recommend it or really say I liked Red Rain, I truly didn't hate it. I was curious to see what Mr. Stine had written, and now I know. I think I'll stick to his children's fiction.


  1. Agh! I was so excited to read this one, too. Admittedly I wasn't expecting it to be fantastic but I'm not hearing anything very promising about it so far.

    1. Hey Becky,

      So good to see you back after my summer of slacking!

      Yeah, this review spawned a lot of discussion on Amazon. You aren't the only Stine fan looking forward to reading it. And there's really no reason why you shouldn't--with appropriately tempered expectations.

      I recently had the same situation with J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy. Early reviews were NOT enthusiastic. Still, it was J.K. Rowling. Writing for adults. I HAD to read it. And so I am. It's okay. Not great. But sometimes you just have to see for yourself.

      While there have been no raves, several readers have enjoyed this one more than I did. So please don't let me dissuade you. I hope you enjoy it.