- Paperback: 252 pages
- Publisher: 1000Vultures; 1St Edition edition (July 11, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 098554550X
- ISBN-13: 978-0985545505
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 1,338 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,621 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Penpal Paperback – July 11, 2012
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The major theme of this book is how our innocence as children protects us (more specifically our memories) from how dark and disturbing our pasts may have really been. The story is told from the author's (Dathan Auerbach) point of view, recalling memories from when he was a young boy. We are given each piece in a non-chronological order, a detail I liked a lot.
This book - on several different occasions - made my skin crawl. I'm not easily spooked, but while reading parts of this book, certain realizations were sinking in as they were occurring (realizations to the reader, not to the subject) and when you begin to realize things Dathan doesn't (by reading the book as an adult, where narration is told by a child) you'll begin to feel your heart sink in your chest. This feeling is especially true if you had a similar childhood to the narrator, such as, being middle class, living in a suburb, and spending most of your childhood outside playing in the woods/area surrounding your house. (*raises hand*)
PENPAL got pretty good ratings on Amazon (4.5 stars) and did slightly less well on Goodreads (3.88 stars). I will say that I did not read any reviews before picking up the book because I trusted my coworker on his suggestion and the book was so cheap (Kindle version is $4.99!) It wasn't until I planned on writing a review for this that I took a look at what people had to say about the book.
One of the biggest problems readers had with Penpal was the quality of Auerbach's writing. Which, I will also admit, it's not stellar. I do agree with others that it reads like a reddit post cut into chapters. With that being said though, I actually liked that the book was written this way. It might be because the book feels more realistic, like someone having a conversation with you, as opposed to a book being narrated by a third party. Also, while others called this 'rambling' (Auerbach's sentence and paragraph style) I thought it added to the effect of a man recalling memories. When a person is remembering something - like their creepy, hair raising childhood - it doesn't come out in a perfect chronological order. In fact, I'm very happy with the way the book was written.
Hands down, one of the best books I've ever read. I read it in one sitting, couldn't pull myself away from it, and was so struck by the time I was done that I didn't quite know what to do with myself afterwards. I desperately hope that Auerbach writes more, because this book absolutely blew my mind. It's painful, in a sick sad aching way, at times. It's terrifying with a kind of silent solidarity that I've never really seen elsewhere. There's a strange hazy, almost dreamlike quality to so much of it that the nostalgia feels entirely too real, and you can nearly smell the dead summer air, the leaves, the rot.
There is a pervasive dread throughout and a fast pace that palpitates as the unfurling puzzle pieces are connected throughout the narrative. While the plot itself unfolds fast, the burn is slowly and gradually felt as the unsettling eeriness comes sharper into focus. The resulting bitter aftertaste of the tragedy’s jagged embers lingers and is haunting in its own way. It might not appease fans of the horror genre however, that crave a more blunt and clear-cut approach to terror.
This book is for you if you prefer unsettling, creepy tales that subtly but deftly ensnarl your thoughts and perhaps even make you look over your shoulder suspiciously as opposed to a straight-up horrorfest that gives you nightmares if and when you can finally get to sleep at night.
SPOILERS: For whatever reason, animals and their untimely and unnatural demise often get used as cliched plot devises to ratchet up the ambience of foreboding and impending danger.
Obviously, Boxes the cat seemingly becomes such a victim -although we never even get to know for sure. Animals befalling death and/or cruelty in storylines are unnecessary, overdone, and frankly just depressing and numbing.
Now why does it seem this is more offensive than any violence that occurs to actual people in the plot? Frankly, because it is almost always done in an offhandedly callous, and calculating attempt to utilize and trivialize their death as a foreshadowing or forewarning and never is given the proper emotional resonance as if animals are just an easily discarded prop to exploit.
I didn’t mean to harp on this as it’s just one of many countless examples in literary and cinematic storytelling traditions. I do appreciate the fact it did at least in this case, seem to affect the main character and his best friend’s feelings more deeply than expected.
This isn’t a criticism indicative of this story’s overall caliber either. It’s just a side point of contention I personally take issue with.