Mass Market Paperback
And so it's back to my teetering stack of vintage 70s horror on the corner of the shelf!
I’ve been happy with most of my 70s reading pile, but my luck has run out. 22 Hallowfield is a terrible novel. I would put a spoiler alert here, but this sucker telegraphs its “surprise” twist so obviously that it really comes pre-spoiled.
There’s no doubt about it. Doris Shannon does a number of dumb things here that writers shouldn’t do, and they add up a shabby mess. Let’s take a look at the felony charges against Shannon:
Count #1: Treating her readers like dumbasses. To be Shannon’s ideal reader, you are not supposed to realize that someone named Lucifa might have connections to Satanism. Moreover, you’re supposed to be so thick-witted that you don’t realize that the name Natas is Satan (EEEK!!!) spelled backward. And you are not supposed to able to guess that the Beele family name that was shortened because it was “unacceptable” just might have originally been Beelzebub. In other words, you’re supposed to be so dim that you don’t realize that little Nancy Beele is not as defenseless as the leering cultists gathered around her think she is. That way, the ending will surprise you.
Count #2: Hoeing someone else’s row. I never trust a book that proclaims on the front cover “In the tradition of [fill in the blank].” Often, this suggests a book where the author is attempting to cash in the popularity of someone else’s work. Generally, the results of such projects run the gamut from profoundly unoriginal to seriously awful. Remember all those multi-volume young adult fantasies about special kids that engulfed the world in the wake of the triumph of Harry Potter? No? Well, don’t feel bad—most of them were pretty forgettable. In this case, poor Ira Levin and the popularity of Rosemary’s Baby are apparently to blame. So we get the young woman moving into a new apartment, the strange neighbors, a growing sense of unease, cultists, etc. Virtually nothing that happens in the book is original or surprising. If you’re a writer, learn from Shannon’s example here and invest your time in your own ideas, not playing around with someone else’s. Cthulhu is cool and all, but H.P. already did that, and he doesn’t really need help.
Count #3: Forgetting the pay off. In the end, 22 Hallowfield seriously under-delivers. Even if we pretend the big twist worked and readers are surprised by the arrival of Mums and Daddums to help little Nancy out of her jam . . . then . . . um, how shall I put this? Nothing fucking happens. Daddy (you know, Natas! EEEK!!!) gives those silly wanna-be Satanists a heavy-duty tongue lashing and locks them into the building so they will have to do one another in to survive. And we don’t get to watch the contest. The end.
No, really. I’m done.