The Bookworm: Beach House
Beach House, by R.L. Stine. 210 pages. Scholastic. August 1992.
“No one lives here,” Buddy said in a flat, frightening tone. “Everyone dies here.” (p. 163)
Ah, back to R.L. Stine. This time I read one of his non-series, young adult horror novellas, Beach House. I do not think I had ever read it before and wanted to finish it before the cultural summer ended. It proved to be an interesting, imaginative, and entertaining departure from the usual tales of Fear Street.
Beach House beings in the summer of 1956. Good friends Maria and Amy are lounging on the beach in Dunehampton, a coastal town that swells with vacationing tourists during the summer. Amy has a boyfriend, Ronnie, but Maria is interested in two different boys: Stuart, a friend of Ronnie’s, and Buddy. Maria can’t decide who she likes more. “Stuart was Mr. Rock and Roll. Mr. Real Cool Cat. Stuart was a lot of fun. Always joking, always messing around. Always snapping his fingers to some tune no one else could hear (p. 6).” Buddy is a different story. Maria met Buddy on the beach when, “He just popped up in the sand beside her, as if out of nowhere. He seemed so lost, so Maria had started talking to him (p. 6).” Buddy is shy, reserved, and a little awkward. Buddy is supposedly staying in the large, somewhat creepy house built on the beach.
As a prank, Ronnie and Stuart depants Buddy in the ocean, leaving him naked in the waves. Buddy calls for help but everyone laughs from the beach. Maria manages to retrieve Buddy’s swimming shorts from Ronnie and Stuart, but the shorts end up getting lost in the water when she makes a feeble attempt to return them. The four friends eventually leave Buddy helpless in the water. On top of that embarrassment, Maria ditches her date with Buddy that night and goes out with Stuart instead.
Buddy snaps. A couple days later, he draws Maria far out into the ocean, where he cuts her with a knife and leaves her for the sharks. Later, as the police comb the beach in search of Maria’s body, Amy, Ronnie, and Stuart follow a police officer to the beach house to find Buddy. They enter (sans warrant) and find that the house is empty. The living room is furnished, and the police officer notes there is a very large closet in one of the bedrooms, but it appears nobody lives there.
The book then jumps forward to “This Summer” and another set of four teenage friends. Ashley, Ross, Lucy, and Kip. Not much has changed in Dunehampton: the vacationers still flock to the city in the summer and the beach house is still there, though in much worse shape. The rumor is that nobody has ever lived there. It was, according to Kip, a townie, the site where a number of teenagers were killed in the fifties. However, the beach house’s grisly past does not deter Kip and Lucy from using it as a make-out spot. (Real romantic, huh?) Kip and Lucy, though, go missing.
The plot shifts back to 1956. Maria’s body was never recovered. She was last seen with Buddy before they swam out, but no one has seen Buddy in a long time. Where is Buddy? What is his story? As if on cue, Buddy emerges from the beach house and tells Amy and Ronnie that he went to his cousin’s in Rockford after Maria’s disappearance. Buddy has blood on the front of his white shirt; he tells them he cut himself while making a sandwich. Later, while strolling on the beach near the beach house, Amy and Ronnie find Stuart bludgeoned to death by a large piece of driftwood. At the end of the section, Buddy invites Amy into the beach house to talk. Suspicious of Buddy, she’s not sure if she wants to go inside with him.
Back in “This Summer,” some time has passed since Kip and Lucy have disappeared and both Ashley and Ross miss them. They eventually venture back into the beach house one day during a storm and Ashley finds Lucy’s scarf in the large closet.
Meanwhile, a new kid named Brad has caught Ashley’s eye — much to the ire of the super jealous and possessive Ross. Brad invites them to his parents’ mansion to play tennis, and after a game of doubles Brad makes a move on Ashley, putting his arms around her to offer advice on her follow-through. Ross storms out and he and Ashley break up. Brad swoops in and after a few dates he takes Ashley to the beach house to reveal a secret.
Jumping back to 1956, Amy reluctantly goes into the beach house with Buddy, where he reveals that he killed Maria and Stuart, and that he just finished off Ronnie (cheaply and conveniently off screen, as Crow T. Robot would say). And he is going to kill Amy as payback for humiliating him on the beach that day, leaving him stranded in the ocean with no pants. She tries to escape but Buddy catches her, ties her to one of the pillars underneath the beach house, and lets her drown in the quickly rising tide.
Almost there. I swear. I will admit, though, that at this point in the book I was becoming impatient. The jumps back and forth in time were starting to annoy me, especially since there did not seem to be much of a connection between the two. What did the characters and events in 1956 have to do with those based in the present? There was not much, which did prove to be a nice incentive to read the book to the end. (Not that I was ever going to quit out of frustration.) There had to be some kind of connection, I thought.
The book concludes in the present with Brad taking Ashley into the house for the big reveal. Before doing so he rants on and on about his family history and how his grandfather, father, and brother were explorers, yada yada yada, and that he wanted to explore, too. So he went into the neglected beach house one morning and made an incredible discovery in the enormous closet.
Do I spoil the ending? Hmm… I’m torn. Sure. What the hell? I think it is outrageous enough to mention.
So Brad takes Ashley into the enormous closet. He wants her to follow him and he leads her deeper and deeper into the closet, into a mysterious gray mist. However, Brad’s family servant, Mary, pulls Ashley out of the closet and away from Brad. Mary is holding a kerosene lamp, addresses Brad as Buddy, and keeps Brad from leaving the closet. Well, Mary turns out to be Maria from 1956. Her body was badly scared by the shark attack but she survived and tracked down Brad/Buddy to get her revenge.
It is revealed that the enormous closet is a time warp that creates a bridge between 1956 and the present. The catch, though, is that it is easy to walk back into the past but hard to return to the present. (That’s probably why Kip and Lucy disappeared: they walked into the closet, were transported to 1956, and couldn’t figure out how to return. Wouldn’t that suck?) Brad/Buddy figured out how to move between the two eras, went on his rampage in the past, and Maria followed him.
Maria wants to force Brad/Buddy back to 1956, where he will presumably be apprehended by the police and be sentenced to the electric chair. To ensure that he never returns, she has doused the house with gasoline. When Maria lowers her kerosene lamp to a puddle of gasoline, the house explodes. Ashley is blown out a window by the explosion and runs into the loving arms of Ross, who was spying on Ashley and Brad/Buddy the whole time. In the end, only a woman’s body is found in the burned wreckage of the house so I presume Brad/Buddy returned to 1956.
Needless to say, the twist at the end was outrageous. Though farfetched, I liked it a lot because it was so unexpected and out of the ordinary for Stine, or at least the Stine I am used to reading. When it was revealed that Mary is Maria and the closet is a time warp I think I said aloud, “No way!” It works, but it still leaves the sour aftertaste of convenience. To be honest, I think it would have been cool if the time warp were revealed sooner. Just think of the possibilities regarding the plot and ways one could connect the two eras and Brad/Buddy’s deeds!
The whole concept of a closet as a time warp, connecting two periods of time more than thirty years apart, is also intriguing. The thought of unknowingly walking back in time is both exciting and frightening, especially since it is not easy getting back. (Ironically, I am watching Back to the Future Part II. I also stumbled onto this today. Who knew the color of Marty McFly’s vest was such a controversial issue.)
Speaking about the two different periods covered in the book, Stine lays on the cultural references pretty thick. The characters in 1956 are talking about the newfangled bikinis, Elvis, Thunderbirds, Tab Hunter, the Andrea Doria, and Jackie Gleason. Stuart puts Brylcreem in his hair and looks like someone from Rebel Without a Cause. In “This Summer,” beach goers have MTV blankets and are blasting rap, Kip looks like Vanilla Ice, and Ashley and Brad go to a movie where Chevy Chase falls off a ladder (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation?).
The book was published in 1992, but I couldn’t help wondering what year “This Summer” actually is. Based on my memories of the time, I do not think it was 1992. Perhaps it was, but it seemed to me that “This Summer” could have been any summer between 1989 and 1992.
Overall, Beach House was not a bad read. The cover is misleading as hell as there are no blood-soaked bikini tops in the book, but whatever.