Years before anybody was spellbound by the boy wizard at Hogwarts, kids were shrieking (and giggling) over the Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine. Now Stine has published one of his rare novels for adults.
Red Rain begins with a hurricane that leaves two young brothers orphaned on a small island off the South Carolina coast. “Two identical blond boys, so frail and thin, with glowing blue eyes, sad eyes” are reminiscent of the children in Village of the Damned and other classic films that Stine mentions in the acknowledgments.
In the aftermath of the storm, travel writer Lea Sutter discovers the boys and feels drawn to protect them. But Lea’s husband, Mark, is rightfully cautious when she brings the twins home to Long Island to adopt them. The Sutters already have two children, Ira and Elena. Mark, a child psychologist, is promoting his first book. With that important project, a family to raise and his assistant coming on to him, Mark’s plate is already full.
Soon the Sutter household is plunged into turmoil. Ira becomes more unlike himself under the influence of the twins. They’re brutal to other children, but Ira idolizes them. And Lea gradually grows unhinged from the memory of what she witnessed on the island. Soon, a series of gruesome murders shocks the community.
After writing 200 books for kids, Stine seems to have trouble adjusting to a more mature and savvy audience. The sex scene feels cliched and out of place here, and sometimes he foreshadows what’s going to happen with heavy sarcasm that saps the story of suspense. He tells us that Derek, a school bully, “has a good head on his shoulders. A good head. Really. Of course, neither Andy or Elaine Saltzman, nor anyone on the pier that night, had any idea of what would happen to Derek’s head a few weeks later.”
Writing horror for children is hard, but frightening adults poses its own challenges. If Stine wants to dig in this graveyard, he’ll have to go deeper.
Allyson Bird reviewed this book for The Washington Post.