Monday, 21 August 2017

Retro Reading - The Wish

We're going back to Nightmare Hall! I hope you're all ready.

Be careful what you wish for . . .

“Wishes granted, fortunes told,”promises the sign on the booth at the back of the campus pizza place. Inside the booth sits a mechanical fortune-teller called the Wizard. His cold glass eyes give Alexandria Edgar the creeps. Her friends at Salem U think she’s crazy—they’re busy making wishes for the Wizard to grant.

But soon, their wishes turn into their worst nightmares: Alex’s roommate, who wished to look less ordinary, is disfigured in an accident. Another girl who wished to shed a few pounds can’t stop losing weight. As her friends face the consequences of their wishes, Alex suspects that her fears about the Wizard are becoming a reality. And she has good reason to be afraid: The truth is even more diabolical than she could have imagined, threatening the group’s very lives.

I loved all the Nightmare Hall books, but I remember this one as being particularly creepy, probably because I'm weird about puppets and dolls and robots and basically anything that looks sort of human but isn't (including chimpanzees but I don't wanna talk about that). It's no spoiler to say that the big bad villain of The Wish is a mechanical wizard (it's right there in the blurb, after all), who is creepy in the extreme, not least because he's sentient and has magical powers.

The Wish is basically the Monkey's Paw of the Nightmare Hall series. Innocent teens, joking around with the old mechanical fortune-teller, make silly wishes that actually seriously reflect their inner desires. At the start of the book, Julie wishes her face was more interesting. Gabe wishes he didn't have to walk everywhere. Immediately, our group of intrepid college kids are involved in a terrible car accident, leaving Gabe with crushed legs and Julie's face ruined by breaking glass.

This is just the start, as despite the utterly inherent creepiness of the Wizard, and our sensible heroine Alex's innate understanding that something is fucked up here, the group keep going back to the damn thing and making more wishes. Kiki wants to lose weight, and is suddenly struck with a wasting illness that lands her in hospital. Kyle wants peace and quiet and ends up in a coma. Marty wants to get out of his class speech and loses his voice (I guess he got off lightly, really). You see how it works here.

Alex wants to stay the hell away from the Wizard, but her revulsion towards it and her suspicions that someone is actively harming her friends, lands her in danger. Then she witnesses an attempted murder that casts suspicion on several people close to her, plunging her even deeper into trouble.

What Point Horror books do a lot is mix a supernatural explanation with a mundane one. The Wish is no exception. The Wizard absolutely has powers and, for some reason, hates teenagers. But he's also a mechanical toy and can't get out and about to actively terrorise Alex, so of course there's a human accomplice. Hoh does a good job of throwing out red herrings - Julie's twin sister, Jenny, for example, suddenly gets a new lease of life after Julie is hospital-bound. She borrows Julie's clothes, dates a football star, and suddenly seems very unconcerned with her mutilated twin. Is she involved, or just selfish? Or both! Who knows? (Spoiler: she's just selfish and really wants to date a football player).

The reveal of the Wizard's real accomplice ends up being something of a bait-and-switch. We're guided, right up until the last second, to believe it's one character, and then it ends up being another. I don't particularly have a problem with that, as the actual reveal genuinely surprised me when I first read the book all those years ago. Revisiting it now, I found myself laughing at the villain's motivation for attempted murder and stalking, which basically boils down to "I wanna be good at sports."

Kyle and I have a running joke if you're Good At Sports in America, you can get away with anything. The Wish shows that being Good At Sports is worth doing anything, including trying to murder your friends. I don't know how much I believe that as motivation, but Hoh does a good job of showing how important being a big football star is to the boys in this book. They're all former high school football heroes, struggling to keep up with their peers on the bigger college stage, and their self-worth is all tied up in that. So in the context of the book and that framework, I guess you can buy that one particular guy might get desperate enough to team up with a mechanical wizard who really hates teenagers and do his dirty work for him in exchange for being Good At Sports.


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