Boo by Rene Gutteridge

2003. Waterbrook. Paperback. 299 pages.

Recommendation from:

Heard of the author through Word Lily

From: the library

In a nutshell:

Wolfe Boone, a reclusive writer of horror novels converts to Christianity and hints that he may be giving up writing in the horror genre.  This rumor causes immense consternation within his hometown, Skary, Ill. which has made a thriving tourist industry out of his residence.  Ainsley Parker, waitress at the The Haunted Mansion, has hated Boone from a distance for the ghoulish transformation his novels have wrought on her town.  Little does she realize, however, that she is the object of the author’s romantic affections.

Review:

I have had a hard time thinking of what to write for this book’s review and forgive me but the result is going to be a long ramble with a good helping of rant.  Admittedly beguiled by the simple and cute cover design of Boo, I was anticipating a story to match.  And the story certainly had its light and amusing moments, but I was overall disappointed in the book.

I started reading Boo during the read-a-thon, after finishing a highly enjoyable horror novel.  I remember feeling a qualm, knowing that the novelist in Boo gives up writing in the horror genre after he becomes a Christian.  I sensed that I might have some disagreement with the author’s implications.  But – 100% agreement is not mandatory for enjoyment, so I proceeded with the book.

My main problem with Boo‘s take on horror novels is that its criticism of horror novels is shallow and inconsistent.  Let me include excerpts from the book where the characters talk in depth about horror novels.

[Talking about Wolfe Boone’s career] At what point did all this fertile imagination go dark?  .. . As he grew into an adult, he explained, “The monsters came out of the closet and from under the bed and leapt into the corridors of my mind.  Unspeakable fears lurk there for all of us.”  When he sought publication, the horror was what sold, and he banked on the fears of humanity, perhaps not consciously realizing the dangerous potential of making a monster of himself.

p. 142

[Wolfe Boone:] “Well, I never wrote because of that.  I guess I got into horror because I liked to surprise the reader, and when I was a kid I loved ghost stories.  But somewhere along the way, it turned into something a lot scarier, a lot worse than just a ghost story.  I guess I caved to the will of the market, so to speak…”

p. 252

First off, the novel can’t seem to decide if Boone was a hack trying to write books that “caved” to the market (per above excerpts) or a writer that was good at his craft.  Elsewhere in the book, it is noted that Boone’s novels feature good character development, attain bestseller status and win critical praise.

Regarding the claims that Boone was “banking on the fears of humanity” and that his books became “worse than just a ghost story,” the reader is not clued in to what Boone’s books actually contained that was so ‘bad’.   The book alludes to a story about a ghost and mentions that Boone’s most recent book features a menacing horde of black cats.

And while horror novels may be partially about giving the reader delicious creepy feelings, many horror novels are also serving up social commentary, indelible characters, and/or tantalizing what-if scenarios.

During the course of the novel, Wolfe takes Ainsley to see a (presumably faithful) film adaptation of one of his books.  Ainsley is surprised to find that the horror movie is really an intense love story that happens to have a really scary ghost.  I was hoping that Ainsley’s emotional investment in the film would be a turning point in Ainsley and the book’s view on the horror genre.  I don’t consider myself a horror novel aficionado, but I hate the idea of a whole category of books being dismissed out-of-hand.  Alas, this is from Ainsley and Wolfe’s conversation after the film:

“Ainsley, I know these movies and books aren’t good.  I’m not trying to say they are.  I just wanted you to see.  I’ll never write anything like it again.  I see how dark it is.  I see what’s wrong with it.  But I’m not ashamed of it either.”

p. 155

What is meant by “dark?”  Boo is so vague on what is ‘wrong’ with the books and movies that I couldn’t understand how Wolfe and Ainsley could so decisively find horror and Christianity to be incompatible.  I personally love a good dark story, though I usually need at least a sliver of hope present for me not to be in a funk after reading such a story.

And – despite her apparent enjoyment of the film adaptation – Ainsley has no desire to read her new love interest’s novels.  In fact, late in the novel, Ainsley responds to an accusation of infatuation with celebrity status by saying: “Well I’ve only known one novelist in my life, and thank the good Lord he’s not writing what he used to anymore.”  I wanted to shake her and say, you haven’t even read any of his books!  How can you be in a position to be grateful for their cessation?

This brings me to the other major aspect of Boo that irritated me: Ainsley Parker.  She came off as such a prissy snob.  She is a Martha Stewart devotee and though I enjoy cooking, I got tired of hearing how Ainsley fries her own potato chips, always squeezes fresh orange juice, makes wreaths, cleans up the dishes promptly, etc.  A moment of laziness or secret penchant for something store-bought and crappy would have been welcome.

Ainsley’s girlfriends seem to exist mainly as a foil to her own perfection.  At a girls’ night, the other girls bring Doritos, cheese puffs, and pretzels, but Ainsley brings “a rolled, puffed pastry  filled with Portobello mushrooms, cream cheese, and fresh spinach” which took her an hour to make.  I mean, it sounds delicious, but it’s a gratuitous aside, only there to establish Ainsley’s already annoying ‘superior’ status.

The book does throw out this one moment of awareness:

Ainsley knew she probably seemed like a snob, as if she felt too good for the town.  But it wasn’t that at all.  In fact, she had never wanted to live anywhere else – pre-horror days, anyway.  And the disappointment people were bound to see in her eyes came from many sources, not the least of which was that she was lonely.

p. 61

Well, Ainsley, you can blame your loneliness on the fact that the rest of the townspeople are largely cartoonish connivers or stupid sheep-like creations.  The two exceptions are the minister and of course Wolfe, who is the only one to point out Ainsley’s flaw of bitterness.  Strangely, though this flaw is acknowledged, I still couldn’t shake the impression that Ainsley was meant as a saintly figure and this made for some confusing dissonance.

So there you have it.  I realize I’m being rather harsh with what is meant as a light and fluffy read, but this book bugs me every time I think about it.  I know there are more books in the series and perhaps they address some of the issues that drove me crazy in Boo.  However, I don’t think I’ll be reading them to find out if they do.  And just in case this matters to how you take my review, I am coming to this book as a Christian myself.

To counterbalance my review, I offer others’ reviews below:

Books, Movies and Chinese Food – “It was a funny, tongue in cheek look at the way we view hypocrisy.”

East Texas Writers Association – “Strange title, strange town, strange people – but oh, so much fun to read. Rene is an artist, pure and simple, in the creation of touching comedy.”

Kristina’s Favorites – “Ms. Gutteridge developed a fun and quirky town with great characters and I can’t wait to get back into it.”

Melanie Writes – “This is a kooky story, complete with a kooky, quite original, villain. I enjoyed it very much.”

Word Lily – “I laughed and laughed at this book. Part of that was because I was surprised by the audacity Gutteridge demonstrated by using so many cheesy puns. But I think it works. A fun, quick read.”

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3 Comments

Filed under Book Review

3 responses to “Boo by Rene Gutteridge

  1. Dismissing an entire genre out of hand without even reading any of it? I already hate Ainsley. I don’t like seeing a novel dismiss a genre; it’s just silly, like saying all movies are bad (how can be a medium be bad?) or something like that. Ugh.

  2. Ha, the second you described Ainsely as a Martha Stewart fan was the second this book probably would have annoyed me, which is too bad – the premise sounds really promising!

  3. Lit Omnivore – I’m not sure the book explicitly says the Ainsley never read a horror novel, just that she never read any of Wolfe Boone’s. However, it seemed clear from what was said that her opinion was not informed by an actual experience with a horror novel.

    Kim – While I was reading Boo, I couldn’t remember if Martha Stewart had gone to jail yet, so it seemed weird that Ainsley would model herself after her. But I just looked it up, and Martha Stewart went to jail in 2004 and Boo was published in 2003. I wonder if the later books in the series incorporate that.

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