Wednesday, April 25, 2018

LIVER BEWARE! You're in for a Drunk Review of Goosebumps #3: MONSTER BLOOD

(this post originally appeared on my Patreon. For those unaware, the series finds me drunkenly reading and reviewing the children's book series, Goosebumps. To date, I'm far enough ahead in the series that I'm making all of the older reviews freely available on Quick Sip Reviews. I hope you enjoy!)

Welcome to the third installment of drunken Goosebumps reviews! And check out that new graphic! Thanks to everyone who voted! I'm rather partial to Scaredy-Liver at the Hip Bar myself, so was quite chuffed to see that other people seemed to like that one, too. I'm also quite chuffed that we've arrived at #3 in the Goosebumps series, Monster Blood! This was actually what I would tell everyone was my favorite Goosebumps when I was little. Why? Because the cover is blue and green. Seriously, I was a weird kid, because I obviously forgot about 90% of this one before picking it up again. The result? MADNESS! You thought the first two books in the series were weird. Are you ready for a magical, sentient, child-endangering (evil) cat? Or a bullying B plot that culminates in endless nightmares and probably endless counseling? Good, because HERE WE GO!
Oh, I should mention that today's review comes courtesy of Rampant Imperial IPA from New Belgium Brewing, because why settle for regular IPAs when you can get drunk TWICE AS FAST!

So, Evan is a young boy getting dumped at his great aunt Kathryn's house for an undisclosed amount of time while his parents go to Atlanta to look for a new house and probably have all the wild sex because hey, new city and away from their bratty kid for weeks. It sounds brilliant and they do postpone coming to pick him up because "it's so difficult to find a house that feels right." Okay, sure parents. Sure… Anyway, great aunt Kathryn apparently helped to raise Evan's dad and according to said father she's…strange. Why? Well, that's not exactly gone into so much but probably because she's awesome and her nickname for Evan's dad was Chicken so he's probably still upset about it. Anyway, Evan's mom drops him off at the beginning of the book and the intro to Kathryn is pretty great. She's deaf, apparently, but doesn't know sign or lipreading and just talks over everyone knowing full well they can't really respond. Also, her physical description is...interesting.

Enter my favorite fan-theory for Kathryn, which is that she's a trans woman. Also, a kickass witch, which is not so much a theory as fact (she literally just tells everyone she's a witch but everyone thinks she's joking?) but first thing's first. The description in the book is…not exactly subtle about Kathryn's appearance, with her wide shoulders, dark hair, and imposing physique. Add in a very deep voice and yeah, it's not really a super sensitive portrayal (nor, I think, intentional, though I do find it weird that the book would code Kathryn this way for what seems no reason) but imo for me it does add a little to text and puts some queer content into a story that really isn't otherwise about Kathryn being trans. Which in some ways makes her way of communicating very interesting, and I want to get really into that and how her refusing to listen to other people with regards to her identity is a very empowering move for the book. Except that...well, there's some weirdness that makes that reading a bit muddled.

Okay, so the conflict of the story here comes from three main sources. First, Evan can't really communicate with Kathryn because she's deaf. Which is a nice way to set up a sense of isolation inside the text. She can talk, though, and she's always carrying around a bloody knife. And she's a FUCKING WITCH and says as much in like the first five minutes after Evan meets her. Also she's very concerned if he "likes the girls." Which, all right, whatever. He does seem to like the girls, however, and quickly meets Andy, a neighbor, who is rather delightful. She drags him to a toy store so she can buy something for a cousin's birthday and Evan ends up finding an ominous jar of Monster Blood, which the weirdly intense but bored owner of the store promptly sells him for two dollars (this business model does not work so well as later in the book the store is shuttered and out of business). And what's not to like? It stretches. It glows in the dark. It bounces. It stains the shit out of everything. Children the world over would love this stuff. Only, when Evan brings it home Kathryn demands to see it and then gives him a weird warning about it.

The second conflict is with a pair of burly twins who terrorize the neighborhood and make Evan's life miserable. They're really just around to offer some more solid, human villains to a story that for the most part is about the third conflict: the Monster Blood starts growing. Which might not seem that awful but Evan's dog eats some and similarly begins to grow. I love how they actually take the dog to the vet here and the vet just sort of shrugs it away and promises to do "tests." Growing dog? Probably fine. Go on now and play, kids.

I feel I need to pause here and go on a little rant about the TV show. Yes, like Stay Out of the Basement, Monster Blood got its own television treatment. The result, however, is nothing at all like the book. Like, really, neither of them makes a lot of sense but in the show Aunt Kathryn is just an eccentric old woman (who can hear) and who had at one time a young woman living with her who turned out to be an evil witch who summoned the Monster Blood for evil but accidentally stepped in it and was sucked in. She's not a cat, though for some reason she shifts into cat form and doesn't like dogs. The bully twins are cut out entirely. Plus there's a sequel episode set on a plane that MAKES NO FUCKING SENSE. Seriously, the Monster Blood starts acting completely different despite being from the same source and starts eating everyone, Blob style, and it's just…just no. I hate to be so firmly on Team Book, but instead of making two episodes that were terrible, maybe they could have done two parts and tried a little harder? Anyway, the show continues to be a travesty for the eyes but I will continue to subject myself to it because DRINKING LEADS TO GOOD DECISIONS, OKAY?

Ahem, sorry, yeah, back to the book. So the setup here is actually pretty solid. Evan is isolated and has a quickly growing problem that he can't really talk to Kathryn about and is also dealing with bullying making it even more difficult to figure out what to do. Things only gets worse when the Monster Blood seems to become sentient and TRIES TO FUCKING EAT HIM. This leads to a zany series of slapslick horrors (like the Monster Blood sucking in the oafish twins and nearly killing them, hah!) that culminates with Kathryn trying to sacrifice herself in order to save Evan and Andy and put an end to the evil plans of…her cat. And if that seems like something of an abrupt turn...welcome to Goosebumps.

Glob I love the reveal of this one. Yes, everyone, it was the cat all along! The cat, who really hadn't been doing much this entire time, turns out to be also magical and really evil (another thing that Kathryn was sure to say early on but that everyone sort of laughed off). But I want to pause here because the book goes really fast over this point and I think that, for me, it's the crux of the story. Because the story, for all it focuses on Evan's perspective, is really about Kathryn and the abusive relationship that she's in that no one wants to see. Because it's not only Evan who is isolated here. It turns out that Kathryn is only deaf because the cat cast a spell on her and then made her not learn sign or lip reading so that she wouldn't be able to effectively communicate with anyone else and would essentially be a prisoner that the cat could control. Remember how I said that Kathryn not wanting to listen to people was empowering to a point? Well, this is the point. It would have been interesting to see an actual deaf trans character refusing to conform to the conventions of the able and the cis gendered majority, but when that stops being a choice it stops being empowering. Which is a shame.

And rather shockingly dark. Here's a character who is a rather awesome witch, who probably could have taken care of this cat no problem before, becoming a victim largely because Kathryn was lonely and the cat offered companionship and love. Or what seemed to be love before the nightmare of deafness and manipulation started. Unfortunately, this isn't an uncommon occurrence, as trans people or otherwise queer or marginalized people often find themselves shunned from family or other support networks and so can become more vulnerable to predators. Here the predator is a LITERAL PREDATOR, a cat, who snares Kathryn and forbids her from seeing other people and then when Evan shows up forces Kathryn to put a spell on his shitty toy-store slime. And this is additionally wrenching because Kathryn does try to reach out and get help but everyone assumes she's just joking. They ignore the warning signs because she's "weird" and "stubborn," which is some huge bullshit. The book really isn't about the emotional growth of Evan (because he doesn't have any) but rather the growth of Kathryn who realizes that no abusive cat is going to make her into a murderer. So she stands up for herself, a giant dog gets involved, and the cat in question ends up (presumably) dying and all of her spells, including the one that kept Kathryn deaf and the one that made the Monster Blood hungry, are nullified.

So yeah, out of the stories so far this one definitely has the most unambiguously happy and hopeful ending (well…aside from the fact that the Monster Blood itself disappears but I'm sure nothing bad will come of that). Unlike the first two, whose twists are giant mindfucks that undo any good that might have come out of the events they describe, this book actually offers up an easing of suffering and freedom for my new favorite Goosebumps character. It's particularly great because Kathryn is now completely free to use her magic. She's over a hundred years old and yet is just starting a new chapter in her life, one that will hopefully involve less evil cats. And while it's true that her deafness is "fixed," she lives and isn't blamed for what happened. She continues to be a witch and a badass and that will not change regardless.

So yeah, time to break this book down using MATH!!!

On the "Would I write fanfiction scale of greatness": 4/5 (I now want to write Kathryn: The Later Years, where she decides to take the show on the road and backpack across the country or Europe, doing magic shit as she goes. In my head she just steals Trigger, Evan's dog, as thanks for his assistance and he becomes her new familiar, occasionally saving the day at the last minute but otherwise along to eat random stinky things. Similarly, if you like the really dark stuff, you could get into just how messed up Kathryn and her evil cat's relationship was, but I prefer my fanfic on the lighter side. Like exploring where the bully twins end up after having seen the tenuous and fragile lines of their own mortality almost snipped, which would be interesting, as would seeing just how queer Andy is when she grows up. My guess? Super queer)

On the "Is this actually good scale of more trying to be objective": 3/5 (this book, while it doesn't exactly make a lot of sense, comes together very well, and I really like the implications of this, which are admittedly dark but also don't punish Kathryn for being trans or a witch. She's the real victim, and she's allowed to find some peace in the end)

On the "Yeah but this is Goosebumps scale of relative wonderment": 4/5 (definitely the best so far, but as we're only three books into the series that's not saying much. It does manage to hold a B-plot, though, and the twist at the end isn't completely awful, just annoyingly ominous because of course the Monster Blood will be back…there's like four sequels or something)


No comments:

Post a Comment