Wednesday, June 4, 2014
Shivers 30: Creepy Clothes
Speaking of future updates, I'm running out of Shivers. Six more books left. If any of you guys have any recommendations about what to read, watch, or play next, don't hesitate to comment or email them. Oh, and since it's summer time, I'll post even more than usual, just... you know, in celebration of summer. Maybe I'll even bug some friends to write a thing or two. It'll be grand. For now, though, I'll get to the book.
There is only one phrase that can be used to describe this: holy shit. It's insane. I honestly think that M.D. Spenser wrote this at three o'clock in the morning after a night of heavy drinking. He said to himself, "Hey, self, ya know what kids these days don't get enough of? Real fuckin' life." Either that or it was ghostwritten (which is actually highly likely). Usually, I wouldn't believe that, since Shivers wasn't the most popular series of its time, but this is drastically different. It gets real.
The book starts out with twelve-year-old Patricia waking up in her bed, unable to find anyone in her house. Eventually, she stumbles upon Abby, the housekeeper. Of course, she's black. The first black character in as long as I can remember and her first line is "Child, you scared me to death!" The two of them soon find Sam, Patricia's ten-year-old brother. The word I want to use to describe him is "slow," but that doesn't quite cover the complete lack of intelligence.
All of a sudden, a police car shows up in their driveway. Sheriff Yancy (be warned: there are many pronouns in this book) comes inside and tells the children that their parents got in a car crash. Don't worry, this is Shivers, they're fine, but they will be in the hospital for a while. You know what's great about this book? Characters have personalities. I think M.D. Spenser actually did spend a lot of time on this, because he probably asked himself, "Now what would this character say?" during dialogue instead of the usual, "How can I best make the plot go by faster?" or, you know, stuff it. For example, when Abby the housekeeper hears this news, she starts pacing back and forth. I could imagine that character doing that, but not some other characters, it's amazing!
Anyway, their neighbors come over and hear the news and they all start crying. That's one thing I can use less of in this book: crying. Jesus, their parents got in a small car crash, they didn't die, they didn't even sustain permanent injuries, get over it. The Sheriff suggests that they see the parents, so they go to the Emergency Room and I swear it's something straight out of Silent Hill or Resident Evil or, to reach out to our modern gamer audience, Outlast. It smells awful, there are sick, crying, and bleeding people everywhere, it seems like something straight out of a horror movie. Take that, hospitals.
Some friendly advice to doctors was inspired by this chapter: never start off your sentence with "I know your mom looks really bad," which is verbatim what the doctor says. The rest of that sentence, no matter how positive, will not go over well. The kids later see their father, a silly and cheerful man who has a wounded leg. The children are scared out of the room by a blood-curdling scream coming from an old woman with tubes (plural) in her nose and throat. Now I'm completely sure that M.D. Spenser suffered some kind of hospital-related childhood trauma.
It turns out that, in the event of an emergency, Patricia and Sam were to be entrusted to their aunt, Dolores, whom they've never met. Hours later, they land in Atlanta (oh, they live in Virginia, by the way) and meet their aunt: a bony, witchy woman. Picture The Simpsons's Crazy Cat Lady. She takes them to her crappy, smoke-filled car and they head off to her apartment. Apparently, the only people who smoke are douchey middle-schoolers and sad, lonely middle-aged women. Take that, smokers.
This is a little strange, but I'm going to remove the Hip References bit from the end because there is an overwhelming amount of references, the first saying that Aunt Dolores's house looks like the house from Psycho. So... nice? I mean, it's a nice house. I wouldn't want to live there, because, you know, it's a set in Universal Studios, but it's nice. The inside is not so nice, though, and reeks of smoke and desperation. Despite their less-than-satisfactory lodgings, the two manage to get some sleep, until... Patricia mistakes the radiator for gunshots and starts screaming. I hate her, I really hate her. If there was one thing I could change about every Shivers book, I would make all the main characters not be mindless, soulless clods so I can feel a little bit of connection with the protagonist, which is currently like trying to bond with a clay figure. But, when you're a blogger reviewing children's horror books, you don't deserve to be able to change things.
Oh, sorry, I got so caught up in something I forgot to mention that the kids saw a man in a wheelchair with an army jacket glaring at them from a balcony. That's important. The next morning, he angrily and bitterly glares at Patricia from the street. Take that, wounded veterans. With nothing to do and Dolores at work, the kids start exploring and find a set of stairs leading up to an attic from their aunt's bedroom. We're going to play a little game to figure out how they respond. You ready?
a.) act like sensible and respectful children and leave it be until their aunt returns from work.
b.) not (a), this is Shivers
d.) all of the above, but not (a), this is Shivers.
The kids find a big trunk of clothes... Creepy Clothes! The kids try some on because isn't that what kids love to do nowadays, and the kids are sent back in time through the Magic Treehouse. Seriously, a wind blows through, the room starts spinning, and they're back in time. It was a very popular children's series that I read as a kid and this is almost completely ripped off of it. Nice job, M.D. Spenser, you used material already used in another children's book.
Anyway, the kids wake up in somebody's backyard and see the stereotypical deadbeat stepfather walk into the house. He has a white t-shirt, black pants, a nearly bald head, a tattoo, and yes, a cigarette. Add "abusive stepfathers" to the list of possible smokers. Soon, two kids come outside, whom the reader immediately realizes are Dolores and the kids' dad, but the protagonists don't realize it for, like, another fifty pages. Oh, and they can't see Patricia and Sam. Dad gets stuck in a tree, so Dolores helps him down and tears her dress. Her stepfather calls them over, screams at them, and then hits 11-year-old Dolores across the face.
Yeah, holy shit.
Then Dolores just stares at him with hatred, and Dad tries to say it was his fault but Dolores stops him so that, and it says this in the book, the stepfather won't hit five-year-old Dad too. The two children had been raised by their stepfather ever since their mother died. Holy shit.
All of a sudden, a harsh wind blows their hats off and the children go back to the present. They sneak out unnoticed and eat dinner with their aunt. Nobody's talking, so Patricia decides to break the ice by effectively saying, "Hey, tell us about your childhood, you were raised by your stepfather, right?" Personally, I would have commented on the weather, that day's activities, cute animals, The Holocaust, anything but her stepfather. I know it's stupid to continually complain about the unintelligent protagonist of a lesser-known children's horror series, but she is a blatant ass.
The next day, they go up to the attic again, put on more clothes, and go back in time- to what I can only infer is the 70's. There is a song playing, which Sam describes as "that Jimi Hendrix song mom plays all the time... the one about Purple Haze." You mean Purple Haze? There are people holding signs saying to give peace a chance, dancing to the music. The mellow vibes are amplified by an assortment of hypnotic tie-dye t-shirts and posters. God, am I glad I was not alive during the 70's.
Up on stage during this anti-war rally is Aunt Dolores and a man named Paul Griffin, stirring these hippies into a frenzy. The stepdad comes in military uniform and begins screaming at Dolores before punching Paul in the face. He drives Aunt Dolores back, but not before the dynamic duo jumps in the back of the truck. The only truck in the book. Take that, truck drivers.
Back at the house, Dolores gives Dad a box of money she's been saving so he can go make something of himself. With the children he had, I'd say he ended up failing. On that note, the children take off the clothes and head back to the attic. There, they find a newspaper telling of Dolores's attempt to murder her stepfather when she was 25. She shot her stepfather. I said it once, and I'll say it again: holy shit.
The siblings hear an argument coming from Dolores's bedroom between her and some man. He told her he needed the kids gone, she told him they had nowhere else to go, she told him she needed him gone so she wouldn't have to explain why he is in a wheelchair, and he leaves. Aunt Dolores hears them in the attic and starts screaming, saying things her stepfather had said, when all of a sudden their dad shows up, having been let out of the hospital. The older siblings make up and explain that after Dolores got out of prison, she got bitter and blamed everything on Dad. The guy in the wheelchair was Paul Griffin, her boyfriend, who had broken his legs in a car crash while running from the police with Dolores. Now that she faced the past, she's happy.
Insight into the Complex Minds of Characters:
"Patricia didn't know what internal damage meant, but it didn't sound good." I mean, it's pretty self-explanatory.
"It was made out of satin, and was very full, kind of like something a fairy princess would wear."
Don't Judge a Book by its Cover:
The cover, title, and back-of-the-book description were co-conspirators in a plot to make this book seem stupid and awful. It's not about haunted clothing at all, really, I don't know why Paradise Press would allow such an unappetizing cover.
Seriously, holy actual shit.
M.D. Spenser took a good premise and, unlike in The Terrible Terror Book, had it retain its goodness as the book progressed. This is the only Shivers book where I was truly excited to find out what happened next, and I actually looked forward to opportunities that I could read it. The side characters are charming, though uncreative, and show personality and even development far beyond what I'd expect any Shivers book to be capable of. I just don't think it should have been part of the Shivers series. The book is a little heavy compared to every other piece in the series, and just doesn't seem to fit. I might even go so far as to say that it would deserve to be a totally separate children's novel altogether (but with different protagonists). In conclusion, you did well, M.D. Spenser, and I'm proud of you. This book is a great improvement, and you get props for writing it.