Review: Penpal – Dathan Auerbach

”In an attempt to make sense of his own mysterious and unsettling childhood memories, a man begins to reconstruct his past. As the games and adventures of his youth become engulfed by a larger story, he finds that it forms a tapestry of unbelievable horror that he never could have expected.

Each chapter completes a different piece of the puzzle for both you and the narrator, and by the end of it all, you will wish that you could forget what he never knew.”

Penpal is a novel by the author Dathan Auerbach which started out as six short stories posted on the Nosleep forums, and was later turned into a book which I now have in my hands.

In short the novel is about a man who has realized that his childhood was not as innocent as he at first remembered it. With the information his mother gives him as an adult, he starts to remember experiences and memories he had long forgotten, and these memories all seem to draw lines between each other. But all of the memories also show the darker side of the man’s childhood that he never knew, and show him the childhood that his mother had spend so many years making him forget.

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I will just start of by saying that the novel Penpal could easily go as my number one favorite book, and here is why:

I am a sucker for horror stories, and this novel has its own way of slowly creeping under your skin. Yes, it is a horror book, but the interesting thing about it is that far into the book, you won’t even know it. The story is written as a simple version of a self biography, where the narrator reflects on his life, he shows the reader his development as he learns more about himself and he concludes his revelations in the end of the novel. There is no haunted house, no vampires or any other of those typical horror elements. The narrator tells about his life as a child, how he was bullied, how he got his first friend, and just everyday experiences told from how he saw things as a child.

But the things that makes the story scary is the fact that all the memories have a connection with each other, and the fact that every now and then the narrator finds out about something that just doesn’t seem right. May it be being in a picture he never knew was taken of him or ending up in a place he never knew, he went to.

The amazing thing about this novel is that the book can give off such a scary feeling when there are no supernatural elements in the story. In fact, I might never have read such a realistic and authentic book in my life. As you’ve finished the book, you may think that there’s little chance that, what scary things that happen in the book, would ever have happened in real life. But because of the many tiny details about things, you’d think only people who would have experienced it, would know, it makes you keep wondering whether the story is actually real or not. And to me, that is the greatest kind of horror of all – when something scary seems so real that it could happen to anyone and not just to a character in a book.

You most likely can’t get tired of this book. Since the story was first separated in six stories they all have their own endings – every chapter has its own little story, time, plot and characters. It has its own conflicts and twists. This means that every chapter will be full of suspense since they all will be working towards their own ending and not the whole book’s. With that said the chapters are clearly connected with each other as the narrator looks back and forth between the different chapters containing different memories.

I even had to add small paper notes on some of the pages just because the foreshadowing and signs I found in every chapter were so amazing and chilling that I just had to mark them.

At last, what I look for most in horror books is a great twist or revelation in the end of the story, and I can tell you that this book has just the right amount of epicness, sadness, horror and surprise that the ending made me shake all over from excitement and unexplainable feelings even after reading the story a second time.

Penpal by Dathan Auerbach (English), 252 pages, 1000 Vultures.

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