Sunday, April 26, 2015

"Don't Stay Up Late" by R.L. Stine

Lisa Brooks is left with a minor brain injury after a car crash that kills her father. She is warned her condition will lead to strange visions and hallucinations. Her shrink suggests that she get a job to focus on something other than her injury. So she gets a gig as a babysitter for eight-year-old Harry Hart. Pretty soon, she is being stalked by a mysterious demon-like creature.

Is the creature real? Or is she just crazy? When people begin to die, it's clear that something evil is lurking out there, but poor Lisa can't get anyone to believe her.

"Don't Stay Up Late" takes the Fear Street series in a supernatural direction. That has lead to accusations that this story is more like Goosebumps, which could be apt, but it doesn't detract from what is a fun, fast-paced and appropriately cheesy B-grade horror tale. The Fear Street books of old usually weren't supernatural, but a few of them were. Several of the mini-series, such as "Cheerleaders", "99 Fear Street", "Fear Park", and "The Cataluna Chronicles" all had supernatural storylines. So it's not out-of-the-ordinary for this Fear Street entry to go that route.

There was a lot that irked me about the book, but I had to remind myself to let it go, and not approach the material as an adult, but as the 13-year-old who initially got hooked on this series. I woke up early and couldn't get back to sleep, and wound up devouring the entire book on my Kindle until the sun came up. Just like I used to do as a teenager. (I still remember the time I stayed up all night reading "The New Boy", way back in 1994). Stine is a little more careful with his chapter cliffhangers. There are several silly ones, but it's nowhere near as bad as the ludicrous cliffhangers found in "Party Games". It was done just well enough to keep me from taking a break.

I didn't like our main character, Lisa Brooks. Head injury aside, she was really insufferable. She spent a lot of time shrieking at people and flying off the handle, especially if they didn't believe her stories about the demon she was seeing. She knows that people won't believe her, but keeps on telling them, and keeps on getting upset and histrionic when they continue not to believe her. She made me roll my eyes several times. Her intelligence could be questioned as well:

1. Instead of shrieking at people who don't believe her, she could grab her phone and get some evidence to force them to believe her.

2. Despite knowing that boyfriend Nate will be making a horror movie at his house, and that he collects horror masks and memorabilia, she goes to his house and immediately thinks she's being attacked by an actual monster (obviously, it's Nate in costume). I mean, duh.

Stine's writing hasn't gotten any better since his 90s heyday, and the material is all pretty silly and juvenile, but it once again captured the spirit of what it was like to read a cheesy, scary story when you're young, which is pretty special. This is a big step up from "Party Games", and should hopefully see the Fear Street relaunch for a few years to come.

(RIP Point Horror Relaunch).

Friday, April 10, 2015

Most annoying genre tropes - the unreliable female narrator

I didn't tap Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl" until after the movie came out. I downloaded it onto my Kindle, read the book, and then watched the movie. Even after all the hype, the book "Gone Girl" was terrific. I spotted the initial twist, but the book spread out in many different directions afterwards that I was just rapt. It was a terrific read, with excellent characterisation. The movie was pretty much exactly the same, but still highly engaging. I believe that the character of Amy will be remembered as a classic character for some time to come.

Around about the same time, "Before I Go To Sleep" was released to similar fanfare. It was an obvious story, contrived and highly unlikely. The movie was similarly stupid. It was like a bad Lifetime TV movie, except with some bad language and Nicole Kidman's bare butt.

Because of the success of these two novels, there is now a neverending flurry of "thrillers" and "suspense" novels in which the main female character can't entirely be relied upon. In "Before I Go To Sleep", it was because the main character woke up forgetting everything from the day before. I read some piece of rubbish called "Look Behind You" by Sibyl Hodge in which the main character had conveniently forgotten her memory. Now there are books like "The Good Girl", "The Girl On The Train", "Remember Me This Way",  "The Girl With A Clock For A Heart" (really?), "The Headmaster's Wife"....the list just goes on and on. Most titles invariably manage to fit "Girl" into the title, hopefully to latch on to readers who thoroughly enjoyed "Gone Girl".

Even worse, even the established authors are getting in on the act. "Crash & Burn" by Lisa Gardner has a central female protagonist who had a bad, unreliable memory because of three bumps to the head throughout her life. She claims to have a daughter that doesn't exist. The awful, diabolical "Cold Cold Heart" by Tami Hoag also has a main female character who has suffered a traumatic brain injury.

Even worse that that, because of whatever it is that makes them unreliable, they are usually utter and complete drips.

I'm over it. What was once a fresh take on the genre has now become the norm.