I’m a man of few Halloween traditions, but scary October readin’ is one I intend to keep going. I cracked three spine-chilling spines this month, and my fun size review of each follows:
Pet Sematary by Stephen King
I had to start with something by good ol’ Stephy Stephy King King because I think he’s great, and by my rough count, there are about 84 of his books I still haven’t read. If I read one King novel a month, I wouldn’t finish them all for seven years, at which point he will have released 50 more books. I’ll never catch up, which is why I’m doing my best to at least read the “essential” ones, or “King Klassics,” if you will. I had always been intrigued by Pet Sematary despite knowing nothing about it. I assumed it was about zombie pets causing trouble, and while it turns out there is in fact some of that, the book delivers something much better than that scary-yet-somewhat-cheesy premise. In the introduction by King himself, he relates how he almost didn’t finish or publish the book because of how controversial and dark he perceived the story to be at the time. This ramped the intrigue up to eleven for me, so I eagerly dove in. While few would call the story controversial in the present day, and many may even call it tame by modern standards, it does not at all disappoint. It deals with the ever-fascinating concept of resurrection and one man’s struggles with its seductive lure. It’s fairly easy for the reader to see the ultimate destination of the story, but it doesn’t matter; King makes you want to see how it happens, even if it makes you feel a little sick to see it. He does inner turmoil so well, and it’s perversely fun to see protagonist Louis Creed’s sad march toward the inevitable. Pet Sematary is now one of my favorites by King, and I highly recommend it.
Rating: 42 out of 50 gravestones
Bird Box by Josh Malerman
My eye had been on Bird Box for a while, but I saved it for October for maximum spookocity. Billed as a less-is-more, unseen > seen type of horror story, the book strongly appealed to me, as I find that tension and terror created by the unknown is often more satisfying than in-your-face blood ‘n’ guts. In the world of Bird Box, something (we’re never really sure what) is out there, and if you see it, you’re driven to homicide and suicide (possibly also regicide, but there aren’t any kings in the immediate vicinity of the main characters, so this is just speculation). To survive, people are forced to stay indoors for the vast majority of their lives, and should they have to venture outside, they must do so with their eyes closed. It’s a cool concept, which is where the book scores most of its points with me. The execution, while solid, leaves a little to be desired. The story follows survivor Malorie and jumps back and forth between current times, when Malorie and her two children must boldly navigate the world blindly, and four years ago, when the unseen menace epidemic began. While the plot is interesting enough in both time periods, the characters fall a little flat to me; I never reached a point where I felt connected with any of them, and while I cared what happened to them, it was only in a lukewarm sort of way. Also, the ending is a bit too neat and tidy for my liking.
Rating: 3 out of 5 quothing ravens
Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix
My last selection, Horrorstor, combines horror and humor, which makes it a…homor novel? Like Bird Box, much of the books appeal lies with its creative concept, though with Horrorstor, the strength is not in the story idea, but rather with the physical layout of the book: it looks like an Ikea catalog. Each chapter begins with a very Ikea-esque picture and description of a piece of furniture that can be bought at the book’s knockoff of the “full assembly required” superstore, Orsk. Sprinkled throughout are pitch-perfect employee evaluations and advertisements, which give the book a very unique feel. As for the story, it follows Orsk employee Amy as she contends with apathy towards her job, an annoying, corporate mantra-spouting boss, and eventually, a night of unspeakable horror. The first half of the book is rich with workplace humor and will likely be enjoyably relatable to many readers (not quite on an Office Space level, but that’s a lofty standard). In the second half, the scary stuff kicks in, and that’s where the book missteps. It’s not that the author necessarily does a bad job with the horror portion of the story; it’s adequately chilling stuff. The issue, in my eyes, is that the tone of the book completely changes from the playful first half, leaving the story with a disjointed feel. It’s like the author put some humor and horror in his plot blender and forgot to turn the thing on, leaving them to sit less satisfyingly side by side rather than smoothly blended together. Mixology issues aside, the innovative packaging of the story is reason enough to clock some time with Horrorstor.
Rating: 6 out of 10 Zombie Shakespeares