Penpal - Dathan Auerbach

Genre: Horror/Psych Thriller
Synopsis: Penpal began as a series of short and interconnected stories posted on an online horror forum. In Penpal, a man investigates the seemingly unrelated bizarre, tragic, and horrific occurrences of his childhood in an attempt to finally understand them. Beginning with only fragments of his earliest years, you'll follow the narrator as he discovers that these strange and horrible events are actually part of a single terrifying story that has shaped the entirety of his life and the lives of those around him. If you've ever stayed in the woods just a little too long after dark, if you've ever had the feeling that someone or something was trying to hurt you, then Penpal is a story that you won't soon forget, despite how you might try.


Review: I loved this book. I - loved - this - book. I suspect I am going to reread this book before the month is out. Now, that said, it is not without flaws. Flaws which, admittedly, I took little notice of while reading the book and which didn't really impact how I felt about it. These flaws were issues for other people who read it, I noticed afterwards - things like the narrator recalling events from his childhood at age 6 such as exploring the woods and swimming largely unsupervised in a local pool, which generally children age 6 don't do unless they've got insanely neglectful or oblivious parents. Other reviews claim it is terribly written. I'll be the first to admit that I don't usually care if a book is a little badly edited or written as long as it has a good story, but I honestly thought this one was very well written. If you're willing to give it a go despite those potential issues, the only flaw it has is that it is not told chronologically, and is recalled in fragments spanning years which are told out of order, often without immediate clarification about where they fit into the story. If used well, that can be a great device. It is not used well here, so that's where the 1 star went.

Now, onto what I loved about this book. I had no idea what this story was really about - and I'm not going to tell you because I want to to read it for yourself. I realised fairly early on where it was going, although I could never have guessed at the specific events that occurred along the way. I also never would have seen the end coming. And I loved it. I felt that it was a fantastically unnerving story, not told in the voice of a child but a brilliant recollection of a child's view of things by an adult remembering his past. The more disturbing details are touched upon quite indirectly, drawing on the weary knowledge of the adult mind that the world can be a screwed-up place to fill in the blanks that our narrator's childhood self was oblivious to. Each individual event was like a miniature short story, which ultimately had to be slotted into the bigger picture, and which ended with an unforseen twist, which, mostly of the time, left me utterly creeped out. The initial setup, the actual acquisition of the penpal shall we say, is one of my favourite things I've ever read. No internet, no social media, no technology at all. A very neat idea, gone horribly awry.

This isn't a long book, so it's a quick and easy read. Scary is not the word, except perhaps if you have children of your own. But it is chilling, absolutely chilling. Highly recommended read.

Rating: 4/5

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