GOOSEBUMPS: THE WEREWOLF OF FEVER SWAMP (R.L. Stine)
I could write twenty paragraphs about Goosebumps. It's so...90's. Those who know me know that I get exceedingly nostalgic about the 90's. To be specific, I want 1992-1995 to be the only years that exist. They should repeat in a recurrent time vortex. I view 1995 as the last perfect year of my life. While I'll refrain from dipping into a dispiriting monograph on the perils of adolescent turmoil, I will stress that the mid-90's were fucking awesome. If you were an 11-year-old boy during this era, nothing was more awesome than Goosebumps. And if you owned the entire series, you were God. I remember attending a friend's birthday party and seeing his collection spread out on the floor. I heard angels singing that day.
Of course, I'm an adult now. I still think that Goosebumps is (are?) killer, but maturity has lured ugly truths out into the rancorous light of day. Whatever do I mean? Well, let's examine The Werewolf of Fever Swamp. I might have enjoyed this benign, harefooted paperback as a wee goblin, but I read it at the resentful age of 28. To be blunt, it kind of sucks. Over the last few years, I've discovered that the lion's share of R.L. Stine's portfolio is vapid and poorly written. Hold that dial! I don't mean to suggest that all of the man's work is substandard. I can't speak for Fear Street, but even the sketchy volumes of Goosebumps are fun to flip through. At its worst, Fever Swamp can be redeemed as mindless escapism.
That doesn't change the fact that it loiters near the bottom of The Tubular Totem Pole. NOTE: The Tubular Totem Pole is my creation. It mustn't fall into the wrong hands. The plot is threadbare. A boy keeps finding animal carcasses torn asunder in the marsh behind his house. He suspects that the culprit may be a werewolf, which would explain the unholy howling he hears on full moon nights. But who is transforming into this primal beast? The resident hermit? The odd nextdoor neighbor? The stray dog? Could it be one of his parents??? I'm not telling. The twist is decent, but we don't see much lycanthropy until the last ten pages. The rest of Fever Swamp is overstuffed with false scares and crude prose.
Stine's bad habits are in rare form. Characters are defined by surface traits, chapters conclude with red herrings and the writing is generally lazy. As per usual, the parents are morons. I'd be willing to discount the majority of the book's shortcomings if the exposition was...oh, I don't know...intriguing. Tragically, The Werewolf of Fever Swamp does not live up to its beautifully fluorescent cover. Do I regret reading it? No. I actually love it in a backwards way, if that makes any sense. Before you ask (please let me pretend that you were going to ask), I plan on covering other Goosebumps titles. I have no choice in the matter.