Sunday, January 12, 2014
Shivers 15: Pool Ghoul
So this book begins when protagonist Laura Massey is on the bus home from swim camp. She gets off after complaining to the reader about swim camp, and is greeted by Patricia the mom and Sammy the terrier. When she gets home to, I kid you not, her mansion, complete with, I kid you not, a bathroom Jacuzzi, she steps out onto the porch to see what her mom's surprise was. Someone covers her eyes and it's really scary and dangerous and oh it's just her mom playing "guess who." I forgot to mention, this book is filled with terrible chapter ending cliffhangers.
So, Laura got a new pool. She runs to check it out, but there's an ugly, scary man inside with "long greasy hair hanging in a pony tail," "a red bandanna tied around his head," and "a big skull and crossbones on one arm" with "a red Dixie flag on the other." O.K, so he's a southern pirate. His name is Mr. Campbell, and he's in charge of building their pool. After he scares Laura, she runs inside and decides to drink, lo and behold, a Coke. I swear Coca Cola sponsors M.D. Spenser or something. Yeah, remember that post, the one where I played M.D. Spenser's Satan? Good times. Anyway, this is where the third worst character in all of Shivers history is introduced, right behind David and Winston: Mark, the self-proclaimed environmentalist older brother. Now, I'm not saying that environmentalists are bad, I think they're great. Where would we be without people who go out of their way to say they care about the environment? Seriously, though, Matt sucks.
My point is reinforced by his first speech, inspired by Laura almost throwing away her Coke can: "'You aren't supposed to put that in the trash. It's a hazard to the environment. There are piles and piles of cans and bottles and plastic all over America –– all over Rockdale –– That will never deteriorate. They stay in the ground for millions of years. You can never get rid of them! It's called P-O-L-L-U-T-I-O-N!! And you're a POLLUTER!'" I'm still baffled by the fact that one of those sentences actually ends with two exclamation points. I would be lenient if there was more to this character, but there really isn't.
Later, Laura decides to watch TV, and settles on Jaws, the movie where "a big shark was attacking people in the ocean." She had to go to sleep, though, because she got too scared when "the shark suddenly jumped out of the water!" She is woken up when a big ball of steam starts floating above her pool. On a cloudless night. While there is no water in the pool. Instead of, say, checking it out or waking people up or taking a selfie with it with the caption "#turntup," she falls back asleep.
The next morning, Laura races after Matt to pick out pool toys from their charitable neighbors. We all know how hard these two have it, with their bathroom Jacuzzi. When she gets there, though, she feels something wrap around her neck, choking her. Oh, but it's just her brother with a pool noodle... choking her. When they get back, they find their father "moving around in a silly way." We find out that "this was his feeble attempt at dancing." It would be a lot funnier if we had any imagery or details to go along with this statement. Instead, we get something even better: a family pool party scene!
The Masseys are joined by Laura's friend Tiffany, and would probably have another guest if Matt had any friends. Laura jumps in the pool, but has to get out when her eyes are stung by the thirty cups of chlorine her dad poured in the pool. She literally says, "'My eyes!' she screamed. 'Someone put acid on my eyes!'" If only.
Her friend Tiffany is terrible and mean, so she makes fun of Laura at school the next day. When Laura comes home, we meet the best character ever. The best. Ever. Martin Littlefeather, the most stereotypical Native American character in the world. I would bet that M.D. Spenser was pressured into adding more people of color, so he rounded up all he knew from old western movies he's seen. Martin is described as "very tall and dark. He had piercing black eyes and long black hair that hung below his shoulders. His body was thick and hard, like that of a race horse." LIKE THAT OF A RACE HORSE.
Martin is part of Matt's scout troop, and is coming over not because he has any sort of positive feelings toward Matt, but because the little bastard's starting a recycling program in the high school he just finished his first day at. Don't... don't these kinds of people just make you want to burn lots of trees? Oh, but guess who's sponsoring this recycling program: the laziest-ly named and premised company ever, Chem Corp. The owner is a man named Nathan Dudley, and southern pirate Mr. Campbell is in the brochure. Turns out that Mr. Campbell is Chem Corp's hired goon. Oh, and also, Laura's dad works for Chem Corp. Martin has his own troubling past with Mr. Campbell:
Long ago, Martin's people lived in peace with the wilderness of wherever the hell Rockbell is supposed to be located. We find out what his people are when he says, "'We are the Cherokee, a proud nation.'" Oh my god. Utterly shameless. But everything changed when "'the white man came to our mountain home.'" The white man destroyed stuff and killed people, but many survived and "'we put down our weapons and gave in to the white man and his greed.'" Jumping forward to five years ago, Mr. Campbell murdered Martin's father for refusing to sell the caverns, the Cherokee hiding places and homeland. I don't know why we had to have the backstory. Perhaps to show off M.D. Spenser's wildly inaccurate knowledge of Native American history?
Anyway, after that, Martin senses a nearby animal spirit in peril and points out their drowned dog. Matt dives in and saves it while Laura stands and screams. After the dog's body is retrieved, Martin (this actually happens in the book) starts chanting and brings the dog back to life.
After saving the dog, Martin takes off, most likely in the form of a crow, leaving Matt and Laura to sell people on the high school recycling plan. One of the residents is Ms. Pincher, the local nut-job, and she's more than happy to pitch in until she learns of Chem Corp's involvement. Apparently, they're evil and pollute rivers and stuff. After hearing her crazy conspiracies, the siblings head back home. Perhaps they could do a good job if they were likable people. When they get home, they hear a splash from the pool a super frightening splash but oh, it's just the pool cleaner. To lighten the mood, Laura's mom suggests a pool party, so Laura invites four of her closest friends while Matt wishes he had friends. I'm pretty sure he called Martin, but Martin reminded him that they weren't friends, primarily because he's irritating, deplorable, and incapable of being loved.
That night, Matt and Laura wake up to find that their pool cleaner has turned itself on, and four pool noodles came to life and spelled the word NO. If there's one thing that frightens teenagers, it's evil, living pool noodles. Perhaps the noodles are trying to make a political statement, like NO more low minimum wage or NO more idiots like John Boehner anywhere near offices or NO more allowing people to write painfully stupid books in any way resembling the Shivers series. Regardless, the next morning was spent watching people on TV protest Chem Corp's recycling program. At one point, Mr. Campbell dragged Ms. Pincher outside. Brutal.
The day of the pool party, Tiffany blew up and rode a blowup shark. It went berserk, reminding Laura of the traumatizing Jaws, and the terrible Tiffany cracked her head on the concrete. If only Matt could get hurt, this scene would be my favorite. After the girls leave, the parents go outside to see the pool fill with blood. The next morning, the family is in turmoil over the loss of their precious pool. Luckily, Martin stops by because he got stuck carpooling Matt on the scout hike. Laura's parents force her to go too, but Matt and Martin don't really like her coming along, and neither does the rest of the troop, because girls are icky and have cooties. Martin prances "like a deer" along the path, because his people used to chant to turn into deers after creating nature masks before the white man came and destroyed the mountains. Soon, Laura is left behind, and trips and falls into the entrance to one of the city's underground caverns.
Matt and Martin join her due to Martin's familiarity with the caverns, and the three of them explore. In the caves, they find a huge pile of recycling trash. Whoops. Just then, Mr. Campbell walks in with a gun to Ms. Pincher's back. Martin escapes while Campbell captures Matt and Laura. He ties them up with Ms. Pincher, and literally dumps a bunch of Coca Cola cans on them. This might be the least efficient and intelligent hired goon ever, but he knows how to push a product. Luckily, our three sorta-heroes escape thanks to Matt's handy pocket knife, which he carried just in case anyone's disliking of him ever became a hatred. They make it out of the trap and right into Campbell's line of fire. Just when all seems lost, Martin comes riding in on horseback, warpaint covering his face, bow in hand, tomahawk in belt, and knocks out Mr. Campbell. If my satire seems offensive, then I apologize, because it is, but if anything, I've been downplaying the casual racism. Animal comparisons and spirit communications aside, Laura refers to Martin as "the Cherokee" multiple times, and the whole "connected with nature" trope is... really prevalent.
The next day, Laura wakes up to find the pool perfectly clean, and Martin "gliding" in it "like a deer." This... this is relentless. Oh, but wait for the explanation: the pool terror was caused by the spirit of his ancestors, because of the recycling and how the caverns run under the pool. All of a sudden, the Masseys and Martin are joined by Nathan Dudley (owner of Chem Corp) and Ms. Pincher. They're all good people, Nathan didn't know about the dumping, and they all hang out together and friendly jostle each other and the seven of them end up being one big happy family.
Insight into the Complex Minds of Characters:
"Wow, Laura thought. Martin's an Indian! A Native American!"
"Laura thought he looked like the pictures of the Cherokee she had seen in the encyclopedia at school."
"Laura could tell that her friend was pea green with envy."
"He was holding a Walkman, and probably listening to that '60s music again." Seriously, how old does M.D. Spenser think these kids are? Some of my friends don't even know what the hell a Walkman is.
Did... Uh... Did You Even Go to School?:
"'A hundred years ago,' Martin continued, 'the white man came to our mountain home. He cut down the trees, killed the animals, dammed up our streams. He killed many of our warriors. He forced most of my people to leave their homes and walk many miles to a far-away land. Many died –– women, children. It's known now as The Trail of Tears."
A hundred years ago... Trail of Tears... It's just so wildly inaccurate. M.D. Spenser didn't write this in, like, 1930. It... it just hurts my sensibilities.
So, while wildly inaccurate and mildly racist and not scary in the least, this was a pretty good installment. They stole the classic "evil local conglomerate pollutes town, old crazy woman is the only knower, kids help company and then are taken at gunpoint by evil company-person, old crazy woman is correct" storyline. If only they had actually focused on the evil pool theme, and either came up with a good cause or tied the current one in to the actual effect a little more. A Cherokee curse? Nobody cares. That said, I was bemused instead of bored, so overall, good Shivers book.