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Book: Lost Boy Lost Girl

September 27, 2008
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You know that haunted house up the hill from where you grew up? Or the one down the street from your grandparents’ house? Or the one that makes you so nervous that you speed up as you walk by it on your way to work?

Maybe there’s something to those feelings.

Maybe. Or is there?

Written in layers and from multiple points of view, the story swirls around and around, like dust motes in an abandoned house. Each time it comes around again you see more of the picture. You understand a little more. And then… more is half-revealed. And half-hidden. There’s always more to the story. What is the story, anyway?

Mark Underhill is a typical teenager. One day, he notices the house behind his house — he’s never really seen this house before. Suddenly, it’s all he can think about. It consumes him. Bad things happen. His mother kills herself. Kids start to disappear. Mark can’t stop thinking about this house. And who — or what — might be inside.

I’ve never read Peter Straub before. I sort of expected something different — something more Stephen King-like, I suppose. Stephen King is the master of small-town horror. His writing — when it’s good — oozes malignancy. This book felt surprisingly light. Although some of the details were horrifying, and the script fairly dark, the actual reading experience was not at all scary. It was theoretically spooky and tense — and there were a few moments when I wondered if I should shut the book and go to sleep before the nightmare-inducing part began (it never did). But it felt written with a light touch. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not.

Let me clarify this before I go much further: this was quite a good book. I really enjoyed how the story unfolded over various points of view, and the stopping and starting of events. It was a good story, too — although it felt unfinished and truncated in certain respects. It’s one of those stories that ends enigmatically. What really happens? Well, it’s up to you — it’s up to what you want to believe. What do you believe? Do you believe in ghosts? Or in just plain old, every-day evil? And what about happy endings? Do you believe in those?

There were a few things that I noticed that really irritated me. One was the author’s continued attempts to make sure we knew how current and hip he (or the story) is. He mentions semi-current celebrities, as well as some celebrity scandals that are a couple years old… from 2003 or so… when this book was published, in fact. I learned in design school not to follow trends too obviously because nothing makes your work more dated, more quickly. He references semi-hip bands, and the kids’ dialogue is sprinkled liberally with, “Yo!” Yo, y’know, whatevs. It sort of made me cringe. I wonder how well those references will age. I also was not a fan of the very scant technology references (some mild hacking, email slang, etc.) — they also seemed like they will be dated very quickly. Normally I like the use of current culture-markers — it’s fun to read books from 50 or 100 years ago and glean information about what life was like. This just felt very self-conscious and an obvious ploy to make it appeal to the youngsters or something.

It also made me wonder about eras in scary novels — this book, with its obvious 2000s culture emphasis — was not that scary. Maybe it’s just this book. But some of the scariest books I’ve ever read come from the 60s and 70s. Rosemary’s Baby. It. ‘Salem’s Lot. The Haunting of Hill House. Did the culture influence the writers? — there was a lot of darkness happening then. It makes me wonder if the relatively happy bubble of the 90s and 00s has been popped and maybe we’ll get some dark culture again. Who knows. If you know of a genuinely scary current book, I’d like to read it.

So. I didn’t love this book, but I liked it. I am curious to read Ghost Story, which I’ve seen on many ‘Scariest Books’ lists. Only a few more days until October, when I’ll start my 31 Days Of Spook. I’m beginning to wonder if I’m just immune to scary books now. I sure hope not.

I have to some work to figure out what I want to read this month. I’d like to include some classics — some Poe, some Lovecraft (which I’ve never read, except maybe one story), re-read a couple favorites, and a few others. I’m going to have to hop to it.

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