By Diane Hoh.
Alex loves hanging out with her fellow Salem University students at Vinnie’s Pizzeria, that is, until Vinnie installs a creepy old fortune telling machine in the back of the restaurant. Unfortunately for Alex, her friends don’t share her distaste for the worn, plaster wizard and his claim to grant their wishes. Dropping their quarters into the ancient machinery, Julie asks to look less boring and her boyfriend, Gabe, a reluctant pedestrian, wishes he had wheels. Driving back to campus that night, Alex and her friends are involved in a nasty car crash, which destroys Julie’s face and leaves Gabe unable to walk for a week. Only Alex seems to notice the coincidence – that they both had their wishes granted, albeit in a most sadistic way.
One by one their social circle makes the same mistake. Kiki wishes to lose weight; within a fortnight she’s gaunt and passing out every five minutes. Marty wishes he didn’t have to give a speech to his sociology class and is rendered mute in front of the whole auditorium. And Kyle gets his wish for peace and quiet when he is thrown from the sixth floor of a tower and ends up in a coma. Luckily for them, Bennett and Jenny (Julie’s twin) are too distracted by their burgeoning romance to make wishes. Jenny is blossoming in her new role as ‘the pretty twin’ and Bennett is excelling on the football field.
Alex has her own distractions. She witnessed Kyle being thrown from the tower and it soon becomes evident the perpetrator saw her too. After a near-death experience on a hijacked shuttle bus she decides to confront The Wizard in the hope of putting a stop to both his supernatural, and his more earthly, machinations.
In The Wish, Diane Hoh offers us a ‘tale of the unexpected’ in the tradition of The Monkey’s Paw; a horrifying lesson in being careful what you wish for. It’s an entertaining story, with plenty to enjoy, particularly The Wizard’s malicious interpretations of the characters’ shallow wishes. It falls down, however, when it refuses to break fully with the standard Point Horror template and insists on introducing a human perpetrator acting alongside The Wizard. This only serves to dilute the horror, and to hinder what should be a truly scary and unique finale.
The Wish is likely to divide readers without being anyone’s full cup of tea. The supernatural aspects will alienate those seeking the reliable PH formula, and the unwillingness to abandon that same formula will frustrate those who would welcome something different. I fall into the latter category here, and feel potential was wasted. But I was nevertheless entertained by The Wish, and appreciate what it attempts to do, even though that isn’t fully realised.
Diane Hoh shows us the consequences of making careless wishes in some gleefully horrifying ways. The gruesome details of the car crash and Julie’s mangled face; Kiki’s emaciated form lying in the infirmary; Kyle’s plummet from the tower… are all memorably macabre. When The Wizard is described to us it feels like we are standing alongside Alex, staring into his sinister blue eyes, smelling the musty old plaster and hearing the whirrs and clicks of his autonomous mechanical body. Not everything works: Alex almost getting blown over a balcony, and the runaway shuttle bus that causes zero damage to person or property, both fail to hit the mark. Still, there’s plenty to be afraid of, if you’re willing to embrace it.