Penpal by Dathan Auerbach

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I love finding a book by an author that I know nothing about, and that is the case for Penpal and Dathan Auerbach.

I put out a request near my birthday for some horror books to purchase and one person recommended Penpal. They said that it freaked them out no end and well, with a recommendation like that from someone I trust, I just had to discover this book for myself.

I decided to jump right on in and didn’t even read the blurb before cracking open those pages. I think that’s why I enjoyed it so much, I was a blank canvass and Auerbach spattered me with the creep factor so much, I came out of this book like a Jackson Pollock painting – it was beautifully horrific, intelligently written and I was pretty much blown away.

I discovered after reading that this book originally started out as a NOSLEEP REDDIT article, each of the stories within this book were individual posts, and then the author decided to polish it up and release it as a collection. I’d say it was more a disjointed novel told in a unique narrative that I’ve not seen done in fiction before. But I guess you could also define it as a collection, so it works on two levels. Fans of interconnected short stories will love the mastery on show and those that love a good old horror novel can also sit back and enjoy how Auerbach weaves this macabre and brutal tale.

‘Sometimes forgetting is the gift that we give ourselves, and when we do, it’s back to the void, and it’s time for more guesses toward a better life.’

Penpal is an intelligent piece of storytelling, one that I feel you get more out of, the more you put into it – and for me going in knowing nothing about the book really helped me jump straight in. Since finishing this book I’ve seen that the reviews for it vary from one star (a great many) and five star (equally as many), it would appear you either love it or you hate it – like Marmite in a way – and I can tell you now, I bloody love Marmite, and this offering from Auerbach was a breath of fresh air. I absolutely loved it. I thought the storytelling was crisp and original, I really enjoyed the disjointed narrative (some of the stories happening before the previous one etc). It read like a more brutal and horror infused version of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Memento’ such is the genius of the storytelling. I found the characters within Penpal to be believable, engaging and fully formed – which ensured that I was fully invested in their plight and the horrors that unfolded.

But it is the horror, it’s the creeping unease that Auerbach fills his prose with, that pulls the reader in further to this unraveling nightmare of a story. It’s not full-blown horror, this is a slow burn, an intelligently plotted out and intrinsically woven story, where each part is a cog in a larger machine that’s slowly turning. If you remove one of the cogs the machine would cease to function, but with all of them attached, it churns out one of the most beguiling and traumatic books I’ve read in a long while, and it’s one that will stay with me for a long while to come. I might need some counselling!

It’s horror but not as we know it. It’s a Rubix cube of a book, each turn of the page, reveals something new as the pieces fall into place; once all the pieces have been turned and discovered the reader can’t help but stare in abject horror at the thing that has been constructed before their very eyes.

There were moments in this book where I would get to the end of a story (chapter) and my jaw would literally be hanging open in shock as another piece of this terrifying story dropped into place. I’ve not read a book like it, each of these reveals had me staring in wide eyed amazement or quite possibly shock as it hit home like a rusty knife in my back.

Highly recommneded .

Penpal is available here.

Dathan Auerbach

In 2011, I started posting to the NoSleep subreddit under the name 1000Vultures. What began as a single story called Footsteps soon grew into a series, and thanks to the support of my readers, that series became the novel Penpal.

I’ve lived in the South for pretty much my whole life. Heavy air and asphalt fields. Miles of road stretching through old farms and rocky lots that maybe used to be for something. Folks who are close despite the sprawl of it all.

It’s where I think of when I think of anywhere at all. Because there’s just so much that can happen in those vacant expanses. In the spaces between the cities and the people who live inside of them.

I write about bad luck and worse people.

Reviewed by Ross Jeffery


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