By R. L. Stine.
Karen’s relationship with her boyfriend, Ethan, means the world to her. But she thinks he might be cheating on her with Wendy Talbot, a concern she shares with her best friend, Micah. And her worst fear is confirmed when, on her next date with Ethan, he suggests they start seeing other people. During a phone conversation with Ethan later that evening, Karen accepts a Call Waiting from an unidentified person who threatens to kill her.
It would be difficult to give a more detailed synopsis than this, without giving away the ‘twist’. So, if you’re happy for an entirely unremarkable turn of events to be ‘spoiled’ for you, please read on.
If not, and if you have a spare 90 minutes you can waste reading Call Waiting, then please come back and check out the rest of my review below, if you can stand to do so!
Of course, it’s Karen pretending to get the phone calls so she can keep her greasy-haired creep of a boyfriend (I am surmising his hair is greasy, but he does work at a place called ‘The Sizzler’…). This ‘twist’ is completely obvious from the first call-waiting incident, which, for a book called Call Waiting, happens a surprisingly late 60-odd pages in. Up to this point we have been introduced to an array of bland peripheral characters, who would act as potential ‘suspects’ for the creepy caller, were it not balls-achingly obvious that Karen’s doing it herself.
Her brother, Chris, is an arsehole, whose practical ‘jokes’ provide the only physical ‘scares’ of the action. And once we know that every single time he appears, he is doing a jape, there’s no horror in him, for example, falling out of a cupboard and playing dead. Her cousin, Adam, is probably the most likeable character of the piece, despite us being constantly told by the other characters that he is ‘weird’. Wait a moment, he’s weird, you say… Maybe he could be the threatening caller? Oh no, that’s right, it’s Karen. The final potential perp is Ethan’s best friend Jake, who is gangly and has a funny voice. Karen is gripped by fear when she realises that Jake doesn’t like her… until she reminds herself that she’s making it all up.
After Karen’s lie is uncovered, the plot goes from woeful to dire, as she starts getting scary phone calls for reals, facing a ‘boy who cried wolf’ situation. But by this point, it is impossible to care. We just want Karen to get the medical help she so desperately needs. Thankfully, by the end she has started seeing a shrink who, after just a few sessions, has ‘fixed’ her. Who knew mental illness can be cured quicker than a sprained ankle?
Whilst we might forgive R. L. Stine’s out-dated attitude towards mental health, it’s too great an act to forgive the laughable final scene, where two girls literally fight over the lying, cheating, spineless Ethan, before he chooses one of them to ‘save’, making him – and this is the most distasteful part – the hero of the piece.
Insulting, pointless garbage.
There is no horror in this Point Horror. Although R. L. Stine’s blatant sexism and lack of sympathy for the mentally ill (themes which unfortunately recur in his Point Horror books) are both terrifying, Call Waiting gets the lowest possible fear factor rating of…