R.L. Stine – Goodnight Kiss + Goodnight Kiss 2 + “The Vampire Club” (1992-1997)

Review by Justin Tate

Mom didn’t censor me from Fear Street books, but she did ban this one due to its sultry cover. In consequence, I’ve been eager to read it since I was 8. At long last the day has finally come! Take that, Ma.

The restful beach babe with dripping vampire bites is, of course, far more alluring than the PG content within. Still, it’s a vampire novel, so of course sexuality plays a role. The premise involves two attractive teen “eternal ones” who are running low on “nectar” and need a refill. They decide to make it a competition and each picks out a victim for the other to seduce and drain. Enter a group of unsuspecting Shadyside teens on vacation and you have yet another horror encounter for youthful Ohioans.

The “seduction” scenes are remarkably chaste and Stine really goes out of his way to assure no one could possibly be scandalized. The vampires themselves are little more than jokesters with a dab of unhealthy competitiveness. Certainly not creatures to evoke horror in any way. While these aesthetic choices are unexpected, and possibly undesired, there is a fair amount of vampiric world building, including an eerie island locale where only bats and vampires live, that offers enticing possibilities.

In the Fear Street universe, “Super Chiller” indicates a longer novel than other books in the series. Sometimes that equates to a more complex narrative or more extreme murders, but this is one of those times where it just means longer. Clocking in at 40,174 words to be exact, that’s about 10,000 more words than average. Sadly those extra words are not put to good use. Several scenes fail to establish character, advance the plot or come back around in any meaningful way.

Nevertheless, despite these flaws and my personal disappointment that this “banned book” is more family friendly than Count Chocula, I still gobbled up every page in a few breathless sittings. Fear Street, even in its most mediocre form, always has the ingredients needed for a compelling story. The recent Netflix movies do a great job of bringing to light much of the lore and world-building that exist in the novels but are rarely explored with great depth. Goodnight Kiss will probably not make my Top 10 list, but it was compelling enough that I’m already jumping into the sequel.

Goodnight Kiss 2 was published 4 years after the first and about that much time has passed in the novel timeline as well. While we aren’t given exact details of what tragedies occurred in the interim, it’s clear that blood-draining is common ’round these parts. There are many references to past murders at the beachy tourist trap, with some of the teens on holiday doubling their vacation plans with plots to avenge the deaths of girlfriends and siblings.

Vampire Island remains a haunting presence and secluded home for hordes of bats and vampires masquerading as bats. The new gang of teen vamps aren’t pranksters like the last batch, but they do suffer from a familiar gambling habit which seems to be a defining trait of vampires in the Fear Street universe. Once again they are eager to bet who will drain the “nectar” out of their human boyfriend first. The twist this time is that one of the potential victims is on to their vampire schemes. If only he can convince his friends of the truth, perhaps they can put a stop to all the murder and mayhem!

If only…

While the length of the sequel is the same as the first, this is thanks to some crafty blank page placement. The narrative is broken up into multiple “parts” for no particular reason, except to add blank space on either side of the heading, and chapter endings conveniently extend half a sentence on to the next page. In actuality, the content is 10,000 words less than the prior book. Not that I’m complaining. The last book was unnecessarily long and even this one, as brisk and breezy as it is, the premise wears itself out pretty quick. At least half the book is devoted to a poor guy trying to convince his friends to believe that vampires are real. That kind of dilemma feels more appropriate in the Goosebumps universe and it’s disappointing to see it relied on so heavily here.

Still, Vampires plus Fear Street equals a good time. Not recommended for those first venturing into the series, but a must-stop side attraction for fans.

“The Vampire Club”

Noteworthy for including “The Vampire Club,” a rare short story that is exclusive to this collection. Actually, this may be the only short story written within the Fear Street universe—someone correct me if I’m wrong. Don’t fret if you have trouble finding this 1997 paperback, however, as it was reprinted in 2012 as Temptation which is readily available.

“The Vampire Club” is only a dozen pages or so, but ventures into surprisingly dark territory while dealing with peer pressure and the desperate teenage need for acceptance. The conclusion, though delivered as a punch line typical of Stine comedy, is actually quite disturbing. Not unexpected, but certainly chilling enough to linger long after the book is closed.

Stine writes in his typical bait-and-switch format, where he exploits genre, and indeed the prior two novels in the collection, to lead you in one direction before yanking you to another in a surprise twist. Those who think this style cheesy or unartistic should re-read what many scholars consider the most perfect short story ever written, Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” and recognize that she does the exact same thing.

While Jackson’s story does touch on broad socio-cultural concerns of cruelty and corruption of organized thought (among other things, there is no exact way to read “The Lottery”) I believe this “bonus” story by Stine examines many of the same anxieties from a teenage perspective. Stine’s language is much more simplistic, of course, but is also instantly compelling and layered to perfection. He might have tried harder to make the end more of a surprise, but that would have likely messed up the pacing which is sensational.

For the many educators out there who teach “The Lottery” every year, this story might actually be a perfect companion piece. How does the author lead you astray, while at the same time foreshadowing the unexpected conclusion? How is the narrator particularly susceptible to the situation he finds himself in? Which events propel the story to its climax?

While I have tepid feelings about Goodnight Kiss and Goodnight Kiss 2, I have mad love for “The Vampire Club” which bumps this collection up to 5 stars. Don’t miss out, Fear Street fans!

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