Thursday, December 6, 2012

Book review: "Red Rain" by R. L. Stine

Before I was the Librarian of the Dead, before I was even a teenage Library Page of the Dead, I was just an odd little kid who liked reading all sorts of creepy stuff. Some of which I probably shouldn't have been reading. The price one pays for having a reading comprehension level that exceeds one's mental and emotional maturity.

I used to love the paperback, pulpy horror-thriller novels about high school kids being terrorized and haunted and vamped and slaughtered. One shots, anthologies and series by the likes of Christopher Pike, Caroline B. Cooney and of course, R. L. Stine.

When I found out that Stine had written an adult novel, I knew I had to try it out. I hadn't picked up any of those old books I used to read in probably twenty years, but after finishing RED RAIN I'm curious how I'd feel about his writing now. Not that I knew anything about the evaluation of fiction as a kid, but I wonder: Were they better than this? Worse? The same, and I just had no clue how to judge it?

In RED RAIN, travel writer Lea Sutter visits a strange island off the coast of South Carolina. A devastating hurricane hits and Lea discovers two orphaned-- and very weird-- twin boys during a torrent of bloody rain. In one rash and bizarre decision, Lea brings them home with her and adopts them. Her husband, controversial child psychologist Mark Sutter and their two children are not happy with this new situation, and make it known. As the true nature of the twins and what happened on the island begin to reveal themselves, more people fall under their strange spell and the bodies start piling up.

I did find the premise of the book interesting and wanted to find out who the boys really were, where they got their abilities from, etc. I can't say it's an innovative story for an author who is known for writing about and for children. The bigger issue, I'm sad to say, was the quality of the writing. The dialogue in particular felt unnatural in places, being too repetitive or saying things that didn't need to be said. Almost all of the characters seemed obsessive and impulsive, and I struggled to connect with a real person. There was even a side plot with a minor character that I don't think played out. It had no solid point to it and could have been completely cut out while leaving the main story in tact. The random sex scene felt useless too, despite the fact that it kept being referred to in awkward places later on in the book.

Evil kids are a classic horror theme for a reason, their creep factor can be amazing when done well. The twins in RED RAIN are strange to be sure, but half the time I found them annoying more than anything else. I will credit Stine with writing some quality gore, so if you like blood and guts with your fiction and don't mind stumbling over a few plot elements and writing issues then this might be worth trying out. Otherwise I'd go with another author known to do evil children well, like THE OMEN by David Seltzer, LORD OF THE FLIES from William Golding or THE BAD SEED by William March. Hell, in Stephen King's body of work alone you can't swing a dead resurrected cat without hitting a creepy kid, like in NIGHT SHIFT which has "Children of the Corn," THE SHINING or PET SEMATARY.

One last random thought in closing. After returning home from the island, Lea has a complete change of personality and becomes obsessed with death rituals, which her husband calls out as being disturbing, unhealthy and weird. To that I say: Hey! I take great offense to th-- Alright, fine. You're right, it's weird. You don't have to rub it in.

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