'Goosebumps' author writes adult novel, falls short

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Red Rain 
Author: R.L. Stine 
Genre: Sci-Fi Horror 
Page Number: 384

With Halloween a little more than two weeks away, readers might feel the urge to pick up R. L. Stine’s latest horror novel, “Red Rain.”

Don’t.

Stine, who made his fame and fortune writing the children’s series “Goosebumps,” released “Red Rain,” a novel aimed at adults, earlier this month. His “Goosebumps” series was, and still is, the go-to horror series for children and young adults. Stine was able to craft successful young adult and children’s horror stories repeatedly, a balancing act that is no easy task. There have been TV shows and merchandise inspired by “Goosebumps” and Stine has sold more than 350 million copies of his series worldwide. This rivals the Harry Potter series (450 million copies), whose author, J.K. Rowling, recently produced her first adult novel. But while Rowling was able to produce something with quality and merit, Stine’s attempt to write for adults reads like a middle-school novel with a few bad words thrown in.

The story is about Lea Sutter, a travel writer who ventures to a mysterious island and survives a terrifying storm. The storm orphans twins Samuel and Daniel, whom Lea adopts for reasons she cannot really explain. When she takes them back to her family, Lea soon discovers they are psychotic, have supernatural powers and want to tear her family apart. The premise has promise, but Stine fails at executing it. Consistently, through writing style, character development and plot problems, “Red Rain” falls flat on its face.

The characters develop very little. Lea Sutter acts childish and naive throughout most of the novel, and while these characteristics describe some adults, no one is this unrealistically childish or naive. The psychotic twins do little more than act psychotic, making them boring villains. None of the characters face any major change, in fact, except for maybe the police officer Andy Pavano.

But what is worse is Stine’s writing. It is choppy. Stine continuously uses sentence fragments during dark scenes to keep the narrative dramatic. This can be an effective method — when it is not overused. Stine uses it constantly. At some points, every other sentence breaks a basic grammar rule.

These errors are glaring enough to turn off any reader, but the novel’s shortcomings do not stop there. Stine may have started with an interesting plot, but by the end of the novel it is riddled with cliches and poor plot development. At one point, Stine writes, “Of course, neither Andy nor Elaine Saltzman, nor anyone on the pier that night, had any idea of what would happen to Derek’s head a few weeks later.”

This kind of unshadowed foreshadowing keeps the novel stale, boring and predictable. There are no plot twists, no surprises, no gasps and no jaw-dropping moments. The ending itself has no merit or redeeming qualities and makes the novel worse. Stine also seems to struggle to weave together his narrative. The only mystery in the novel is why he found it necessary to break a 384-page novel into 75 chapters, which is an average of 5.12 pages per chapter. Short, choppy chapters are characteristic of children’s books, not
adult novels.

Stine fails at creating any realism. While this is a science-fiction horror novel, parts of the story belong to the real world and should thus be realistic. But Stine cannot do that. Lea Sutter knowingly goes to an island for her travel blog on the eve of a monstrous hurricane, something she and all the weather channels are fully aware of. Mark Sutter, Lea’s husband, writes a psychology book saying parents should give their children some independence, a fact already established by most psychologists. Readers react angrily and the book is received with controversy. It is these and other glaring inconsistencies that strip Stine of his remaining shreds of credibility.

Perhaps this is the novel’s most irritating and frustrating flaw — it had the chance to be engaging, but it fails in every way possible.

Stine still retains a masterful command of descriptive horror writing. He artfully brings to life devastating hurricanes, blood-red rain, psychotic twins and frightening murder scenes. The novel is written with the themes and scenes for adults and adults only, but it sadly has the maturity and writing level of a fifth grader.

Printed on Monday, October 15, 2012 as: 'Goosebumps' author fails to grow up in new novel for adults