Sunday, July 30, 2017

LIVER BEWARE! You're in for a Drunk Review of Goosebumps #6: LET'S GET INVISIBLE!

Can I just say that I love that these titles feel the need to use exclamation points. Like LET'S GET INVISIBLE would have been too weak and dull. No, fuck that! the book seems to say. If we're doing this then WE'RE FUCKING DOING THIS!!! I mean, it makes a certain amount of sense when you've got death in the mix. SAY CHEESE AND DIE! seems like less an overstatement, same with TICK TOCK, YOU'RE DEAD! But...getting invisible just doesn't have the same weight to it. The same need for that exclamation point. Maybe if it was LET'S GET INVISIBLE...TO DEATH! I could more fully behind it. As it is, and especially with how this book turns out, that exclamation is a promise that the book does not follow through on.

Oh, what am I drinking? Thank you for asking! I've got a Java Lava today spiked with a shot of bourbon. Yes, I spike booze with stronger booze because THAT IS HOW IT WORKS! Plus I love how the smokiness of the bourbon complements the coffee stout. Nothing but win with this drink. This book, though...

[Okay, some warnings before we continue. I have some ridiculous theories concerning book and life in general, and I apologize ahead of time if I seem to be lumping in an entire generation of people into the same boat and then trying to light that boat on fire. I was born in the meaty part of the 1980s and am, as such, a Millennial. And Goosebumps is just so...proudly a product of its time that it's hard not to make some sweeping statements in looking at it. Just be aware that I'm speaking just from my personal experiences and my observations (and drunken observations at that) on some generational trends]

So we open with the most standard of childhood experiences of Middle America (upper middle class and Midwest), which is the childhood birthday party. Max is turning twelve or some such garbage and he's getting all these anonymous school/neighborhood kids over to watch movies and eat pizza/cake. And okay, not sure Terminator is the most appropriate film for a 12-year-old birthday party, but hey, it allows the book to get pretty fucking misogynist pretty fucking fast. Because, surprise surprise, the girls don't want to watch the movie. Max is quite disgruntled about this uncool behavior but has more annoying things to deal with, namely his little brother Lefty. R.L. Stine must have some fucked up sibling relationships, because so far the ones in these books have been...well, not great. Especially they focus on annoying younger brothers and as a younger brother I have to say I'm slightly offended. But yeah, Lefty is basically a walking cliché of what ADHD looks like and is a little shit.

The party eventually winds down and Max is left with just two of the girls from the party, Erin (the typical one) and April (the very timid one). As they refuse to watch the movie (WHY IS THIS BOOK SO OBSESSED WITH THAT?), they decide to explore the attic, and because boys will be boys (seriously, this book...) Max ends up finding a secret door in the attic. And...okay, maybe things are different in Michigan or wherever the hell this book is set, but who has secret doors in their attics. This is the 'burbs. All the houses are like exactly the same. The book reassures me that this house is old and so maybe before suburbs were a thing but still. Of course the kids have to go and investigate this most awesome of finds and discover...a mirror and a weird light bulb. Boring. OR IS IT?! Because you see, dear readers, this is no ordinary mirror/light bulb combo. No! This one TURNS YOU INVISIBLE!!!

Conspiracy theory time! And it's not even much of a conspiracy because it's so transparent. This book is literally about asphyxiation. It might as well be titled LET'S GET CHOKED! And...that might actually be an improvement. But here's the thing. The first time the kids get invisible, it's super quick and kind-of an accident. But it doesn't end there. Suddenly they want to get invisible more and more. It gives them a rush even as they feel that it's dangerous. And they egg each other on, even timing their little adventures so they can go longer and longer and—IT IS LITERALLY ABOUT CHOKING. If you don't know what I'm talking about, google The Choking Game and read up on it, but here's where the book moves past what might be frightening to kids and takes aim squarely on a huge insecurity of parents. And if you think I'm overreacting, here's a line from the back of the book: "Getting invisible is turning into a very dangerous game."

For all that the books were marketed toward Millennial kids, they were definitely not written by a Millennial. No, R.L. Stine was of about the same age as the parents of the kids who would have been reading these books at the time. As such, a lot of the insecurities I see in here I've seen my entire life from my parents and my parents' generation. To recap, the Choking Game was never really "a thing." There were not secret choking meetings (that I was invited to, at least, but maybe this was just the cool kids—though they probably just drank and did some recreational drugs). But people my parents' age ATE THAT SHIT UP WITH A FEAR SPOON! I mean, we've already learned the horrors of stranger danger from this series. That fear was front and center as I grew up. But the thing is, I feel like people my parents' age are addicted to fear. Once they started being afraid SOMEONE WAS COMING TO TAKE THEIR KIDS, they also kinda started hating their kids. Because wouldn't it be JUST LIKE US to get abducted. Or molested. Or killed. Kids these days, amirite?

Now, I'm not saying that this was wholly conscious. But the moment they started riding the fear train they stopped trusting us (see as evidence: EVERY FUCKING ARTICLE A BOOMER WRITES ABOUT MILLENNIALS). It wouldn't be a tragedy if we were hurt. It became our fault. Because they would have to deal with it. Because it would upset them. Because how would it make them look? They'd be labeled BAD PARENTS and no, NOT TODAY! So instead they took away our freedom. No playing in the park a fucking block away. No, play in the yard. Who are your friends? Who are their parents? WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN YOUR ROOM ALL DAY?! You know what? Exactly what YOU DID when you were that age (Spoilers: probably masturbating).

And that's what this book gets into, this idea that THERE'S A FUCKING INVISIBILITY MIRROR in the house that Max and his friends are discovering for the first time but it's not like a new house. This house has been in Max's family forever. What are the chances that his parent (whichever grew up there) and his grandparent (again, whichever) didn't know about this? No, they probably did the exact same thing when they were young and then instead of FUCKING PASSING ALONG SOME VITAL GODDAMN INFORMATION TO THEIR CHILD THAT COULD KEEP THEM SAFE they just...didn't. What's healthy masturbation? OH GLOB WE CAN'T TALK ABOUT THAT! But isn't it a lack of understanding, coupled with being allowed to do basically nothing but stay inside all day (because the outside is dangerous!) that would lead to someone experimenting with choking (because isolation and boredom is a great combination for a child's mental health). This entire fucking book could have been avoided. Max fucking asks his parents and grandparents about the mirror (not directly because he's afraid of what they'd say/think) and they just brush him off and change the subject, and go so far as to gaslight him into just figuring it out on his own.

But okay, deep breaths. This is supposed to be a cute kid's horror book. Ahem. It's just that...this book has a certain after-school-special feel to it. Max is drawn into the dangerous game of chok—I mean, getting invisible, by his friends. They lack parental supervision (the horror!) and so they do this thing that eventually gets them all replaced by evil mirror-universe reflection-people. Uh...yeah. The book shows Max compelled to get invisible again and again not because it's pleasant but because it gives him a rush and he doesn't want to look bad in front of his friends. Readers, I give you the dangers of PEER PRESSURE! It's okay, though, because Max just says no and things basically work out. By that, of course, I mean that he's physically forced to go invisible by his so-called friends and is only saved from the cold void of nothingness on the other side of the mirror by his asshole of a little brother who accidentally breaks the mirror with a baseball, thus banishing the mirror-people back to their dimension and saving Max's friends and the day.

In short, this book makes no sense. Seriously, there's usually an explanation in these books about what the fuck's going on. Evil magic scientists, you know? But here...nope. There is an evil mirror in this attic and no one knows why or even really questions it and there's certainly no reason for it being there. Did it come with the house? Who made it and why? Was it some experiment gone wrong? Quick aside, for all you X-Files fans out there. I have mixed feelings on Mulder, but one he left the show and it was Scully and T-1000 doing things, the show lost of the things that I loved about it—the ridiculous theories. The one thing that Mulder was good for was having some really idiotic theory for what was going on. Scully was there to be the voice of reason and all and I loved that, too, but Mulder was the guy being like "okay, so it was this magic scientist guy who decided to make an evil camera" and the show needed that because when he left all T-1000 could do was shrug and Scully, bless her, tried to be both the reason and the ridiculous romantic and it didn't work.

So it is here, because THE REVEALS ARE MY FAVORITE PART and here we get none. NONE. There's a twist, sure (Lefty is still a mirror-person) but WHO CARES?! I want to know the completely ridiculous reason this mirror happened to be in this tiny attic room. As it is it really only works as a metaphor. It's the loaded gun that the parents keep around "for protection" but never talk to their kids about. It's the chemicals under the sink that the kids can huff to get high. It's the formal tie that the kid has to have for funerals and dances that he can use to cut off oxygen to his brain. It's just this thing that would be harmless if the parents GAVE JUST ONE FUCK about actually helping their kids. Instead, no, we get a mirror-Lefty (Righty now, I guess) and a Max who has just learned that there's no one he can trust. Not his parents, not his brother, and not his friends. HAVE A GOOD LIFE, MAX!

Shit, this is a depressing book. I realize now that I entered into the series at around #30 and then skipped around, so reading them from the beginning is a strange experience. Anyway, though, let's not look at this book using NUMBERS!

On the "Would I write fanfiction scale of greatness": 2/5 (I wouldn't really like it, but I'd do it. Mostly I think there's a lot to be mined from the idea of the mirror people...and all the autoerotic asphyxiation going on, but that's another story. I do think that the idea of the mirror-world is compelling, that it's cold and that mirror-Max might just need a little warmth to make him less evil. Other than the mirror-people thing, though, there's not much here. The characters are all pretty annoying and I can't stand either the parents or grandparents. Max/Mirror-Max, though, has some potential...)

On the "Is this actually good scale of more trying to be objective": 1/5 (I think that this is a valuable read if you really want to understand some of the fear that Boomers have concerning their Millennial children. Well, I think it can be a valuable read. It's interesting, at least. But still, it's kind of a garbage fire)

On the "Yeah but this is Goosebumps scale of relative wonderment": 1/5 (Things are bleak. There is no big reveal about what's going on. And the book just isn't as fun as many of the other reads. It's...well, it's a much more intimate story than most of the rest so far. It takes place almost entirely in the one house, and though it has a fairly large cast of kids, there really isn't much to recommend them. The "scare" here isn't even really aimed at the kids, but at the kids' parents. There's the vague danger of the mirror-people, but that's really weak, as their evil seems to extend only as far as...they don't want to live in the mirror anymore. So...yeah)

Okay, wow, we're officially IN A SLUMP with regards to this series. Thank glob for the GIVE YOURSELF GOOSEBUMPS series, because at least those are guaranteed to produce a good time. But stay tuned, because next month I'm looking at perhaps the most famous of the original GOOSEBUMPS books, #7: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DUMMY. Be there and be scared! Cheers!

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