Just in Time for All Hallow’s Eve: A Nostalgic Review of R.L. Stine’s “Red Rain”

[Note: For the purposes of this piece, please imagine me writing it while seated in a burgundy leather armchair, quietly puffing on a cheap cigar.]

Hello, internet. Unreality’s resident nostalgia enthusiast here. With Halloween just around the corner, my article pitches have inevitably taken a turn for the macabre. Well, more macabre than usual, anyway. (Incidentally, Paul isn’t interested in my conspiracy theories involving vampires, Trojan Fire & Ice condoms, and The Real Housewives of Whatever County.)

As fate would have it, however, I recently got my hands on a copy of Red Rain, the latest adult horror novel by R.L. Stine. “Wait a second,” you’re probably thinking. “I thought Stine just wrote Goosebumps. Fear Street. You know, kid stuff.” Hey, I’m right there with you; before Red Rain, the last dose of Stine I’d gotten was from back in my early teens, and I’ve never looked at ventriloquist dummies the same way since.

As if those goddamn things weren’t creepy enough.

Needless to say, I was pumped to sink my teeth into another R.L. Stine book after all these years, particularly since I’d been such a huge fan during my pre-chest hair days. So much time has passed since last visiting the ghost next door, and I was genuinely curious to see what Pseudo-Adult TJ would think of a book that, according to my copy’s accompanying press release, is essentially Goosebumps for grown-ups.

The short answer is yes, Stine has still got it, and Red Rain is a page-turner that essentially melds the author’s predilections toward the supernatural with a narrative the Goosebumps generation can appreciate in spades.

But short answers aren’t really my thing. Arbitrary lists, on the other hand…

[Note: This review is free of any major spoilers.]

Plot and Character Development  

Stine’s story begins with Lea Sutter, a somewhat clichéd “travel writer” who deliberately visits Cape Le Chat Noir—a creepy island off the coast of South Carolina—on self-assignment. (Her blogging career is frustratingly ambiguous at times.) Strange, zombie-ish shit happens on this island, and in classic icing-on-the-Stine-cake form, Lea’s antiparadise vacation occurs during a violent hurricane. Bum bum bummmmmmm.

Oh, and on a slightly creepier note, this print has been hanging in my bathroom for years:

Pictured: real-world foreshadowing??

In the storm’s bloody aftermath, Lea rescues (or does she?) two orphans (or are they?) from the wreckage and impulsively welcomes them into her family’s Sag Harbor residence. From there, the twins’ true nature is methodically revealed, and Stine’s expert pacing continuously had me promising myself, “OK, for real this time: just one more chapter and I’m going to bed.” (I’m not the fastest reader, but I polished off this 369-pager in two weeknights.)

As a horror novel, one of Red Rain‘s draws—at least to me—was the simplicity of its antagonists. Samuel and Daniel are literally evil twins, and the reader is never given a satisfying explanation for their supernatural abilities. This annoyed Pseudo-Adult TJ at first, but Stine’s brand of horror is rarely about the evil itself—it’s about the implications behind said evil, and how the novel’s protagonist/s choose to react. Plus babies and teenagers already terrify me, so I didn’t need tons of incentive to root against two seemingly angelic twelve-year-olds.

It was also refreshing to get pieces of the story from the villains’ perspective—a tactic I don’t remember Stine using in his Goosebumps series. Again, we never learn nearly as much about the twins’ sordid past as I’d hoped, but this only bothered me until I remembered one thing: in Stine’s universe, sometimes stuff is evil just because. Once I accepted this simple fact, I was able to let my imagination off its leash for a while. To run wild, if you will.

Really, really wild.

And react those protagonists do. In Red Rain, Stine creates relatable adult characters who, unlike many of their tongue-in-cheek Goosebumps brethren, are deliberately rooted in the real world. They tweet. They Facebook. They text. They blog. They favor smartphones over physical pads of paper. The modern cultural references may come off a bit forced at times, but they hardly impede Stine’s character development along the way. [One a side, here’s one of my favorite passages: “A lot of thirty-year-olds are teenagers these days.” So simple. So true.]

Writing Style

As an admittedly biased Stine fan, I found Red Rain’s cadence and authorial voice to be pleasantly familiar (though I inadvertently did a double-take at the first f-bomb). I was hooked by the end of the fourth chapter, and before long, it actually felt like I was reading an evolved version of Goosebumps. I felt like a kid again, reading ghost stories by flashlight under the covers. The imagery Stine creates is both grotesque and succinct, and as a writer who habitually employs run-on sentences filled with unnecessary adjectives, I can assure you this is no easy task.

R.L. Gets R-Rated

Speaking of f-bombs, Red Rain is filled with reminders that, just like my Baywatch fan fiction, this book isn’t for kids. The dialogue is infused with a healthy dose of profanity, and sexuality plays a distinct, organic role in the psychological development of certain characters. If it were any other author, I’d be totally fine with this; sex scenes absolutely have their place in literature. Movies too. But this is the guy who introduced Tween TJ to vengeful garden gnomes, haunted summer camps, and demonic scarecrows. The guy who helped me fall in love with horror and comedic wit at the exact same time.

This friggin’ guy.

To be honest, R.L. Stine was hands-down my favorite author throughout much of my childhood, and I’m 100% positive he influenced me as an aspiring writer. Still, it never occurred to me to view Stine as a sexual being, and nostalgic Pseudo-Adult TJ found that aspect of Red Rain unsettling at best. I’m guessing he did that on purpose.

— — —

Personal biases aside, I’d say Red Rain stands alone as a terrific horror novel that will scare the pants off many a reader. Happy Halloween, all.

4 out of 5 stars

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