I originally read Penpal in its earliest form, as a post in the “nosleep” sub on Reddit. Since then it’s been edited, expanded, and published as a novel, so I’ve had it on my Kindle for a good while waiting to see how it turned out. Disappointingly, it really wasn’t all that different. The content of the chapters might have been fleshed out, but there’s no real new material, no extra scares, and its transition to book form doesn’t do it any favours.
Penpal is essentially the story of a boy and his stalker. As an internet post, the content and writing shone above and beyond the endless mediocre submissions, but as a book it just doesn’t cut it. It reads like the author sat with a thesaurus to hand, trying to impress a high school English teacher. There’s a lot of needless repetition, and the structure does it no favours. The point of “nosleep” is that submissions should all be treated as true stories, so in its original form, the author had to wend in awkward exposition about why he was only remembering certain events now, as chapters jumped back and forth between time periods. Books are obviously unconstrained by such silliness, but Auerbach sticks to his structure and back-and-forth chronology, much to the story’s detriment.
Sad to say, much as I did enjoy the unfolding tale as a Reddit epic, Penpal just can’t hold its own in the big leagues.
[Read from 11-24 June 2016]