It Literally Sucks, and There’s a Squirrel: A Review of Let Me In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
There’s a word in Swedish, smörja, meaning tripe, grease, kitsch, tosh. I’ll be using it in this review.
Great literature is compelling, in the way a vampire’s eyes hypnotize and put one under complete control. The opposite is average literature, arguably worse than bad literature because the authors of average literature take themselves and their work so seriously. Their results let us know that all hope of improvement has been abandoned.
Another word is compelling. Great literature compels while average literature bores.
What is fascinates me, although it’s of no surprise, is that plainly average literature is not seen as average by unsophisticated readers. I think they’re trained to be bad readers and I mean trained, not simply that they were never taught how to be good readers. And I think the authors, often trained in part by courses and books outlining plot steps, pander to their average taste by focusing on plot. As a result, readers in their zeal for plot are provided plot-meth and money changes hands, so everyone gets high. When asked about the writing, the unsophisticaterd reader responds that if a sentence has a capital letter at the start and a period at the end then it’s quite good.
Let Me In (LMI) is average literature in the sense above. In this book, like all books of average literature, mainly things don’t matter. Switch a chapter to another location, delete a scene, add or subtract a secondary character and generally nothing is lost. Themes such as moral questions, or the advancement of theme through characterization always seem to rest just outside the author’s conceptions. Consequently, characters and their points of interaction take on the most ridiculous generalizations and easiest contrasts. Everything becomes a coffee klatch catchword. We don’t need to worry about forming judgements of characters, these are yelled at us.
Here is the plot of LMI in an acorn. Oskar tries not to be bullied. He gets beaten up. He pees his pants. He meets Eli. He wants to see her again. He sees her again. He thinks she’s a vampire. He asks and she admits she’s a sorta-vampire. He wants to see her again. He sees her again. Repeat. He gets beaten up again. He pees his pants again. Eli now Elias asks if Oskar wants to become a sorta-vampire. He sort of says — not described. He lights a fire at school. He gets beaten up again. Elias shows up and kills the bullies. Oskar is drowned and apparently Elias has turned him into a sorta-vampire — not described.
Oskar sort of dates Eli the sorta-vampire but they apparently have no sexual feelings for each other. No matter. Eli is a girl who is a guy who has nothing down there as in a Ken doll. I guess sorta-vampires never need to pee, so probably Oskar will be happy if that de-genitalizing occurs to him too.
Most of the LMI concerns side stories, mostly so lackluster they’re not worth describing. Virginia becomes a vampire and burns up, trust me that story is nowhere as exciting as the seven words I just wrote at the start of this sentence. Hakan, the evil something, we’re never quite clear, burns off his face with hydrochloric acid, escapes, and becomes a zombie on the run, most easily identified by his constant erection. He appears chapter after chapter, physically getting worse but always ready to get down with whatever action comes his rotten way.
There are a number of battling the big boss sort of scenes, pages long, as disgusting and as boring as flypaper, think excessively detailed action packed irrelevance. LMI ought to be billed as YA reading as it’s R.L. Stine cranked on gore for the tender hearted adults who think zombies with boners is a beautiful picture. The movie Let the Right One In, 2008 was better than the book, but both are relatively unmemorable. I don’t even recall what happened in the movie beyond the first premise, and this will be the same with the book as my brain is already deleting memory files. But to be clear, to say a movie is better than a book is a real indictment. A book has all the time and space to develop, a movie is limited to 120 minutes, one page of screenplay per minute. For a movie to outshine the book is a terrible thing.
In this mess, characters and their actions must take on superhuman, nearly prophetic import and resultantly the author never wavers in his meticulous, often misdirected description of everything that doesn’t matter.
For example: “When Larry opened the elevator door and pushed him out onto the landing the cry deepened, started to reverberate against the concrete walls. Lacke’s scream of primal, bottomless sorrow filled the stairwell from top to bottom.”
For average readers, this reads as Larry opened the elevator door and heard loud screaming. And the readers rush ahead to find out what happens next. The sentence, however, really doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. What exactly does he hear? Is it a scream, a cry, a wailing, or a moan? Screaming is normally not of “bottomless sorrow,” that’s a moan or wail. A cry is generally shorter, to cry out, or to cry as in sobbing. The elevator in the scene does not entail the change of sound, although the sentence makes appear that here is a relationship. Larry would have heard this loud moaning while in the elevator as well as out of it, so why did it deepen exactly when the elevator door opened? An elevator in an apartment building, which is where the scene occurs, opens onto a floor or into a lobby, not a landing, which is generally at the top or bottom of a staircase. What exactly does “reverberate against the concrete walls” describe? Reverberate means to be filled with a loud or echoing sound. So either the loud cry deepened and was loud, or it deepened and resounded in a series of echos, which I doubt as the cry was continuous. Then the writing goes cataclysmic. It’s not a merely a cry but a primal, bottomless sorrow. What does “bottomless sorrow” mean exactly? Nobody knows, it just sounds good to the author.
And finally Larry wouldn’t have known the sound filled the stairwell from top to bottom because he wasn’t in all places at once. As usual, the point of view in LMI is sloppy and slippery. At one point the point of view switches to that of a squirrel, seriously. I wonder if the the author really knew what story to focus on, Oskar’s or Virginia’s, maybe the squirrel’s? How about, The Adventures of a Squirrel, and a Good Squirrel Too, with Sorta-Vampires. Alfred Elwes would probably smile. Back and forth the chapters switch for no discernible reason except to break up the main story. But average readers forgive all of this, in fact they don’t even see it as they speed ever onward in their average quest to know what happens at the end.
Here is another passage just a couple of sentences later, “Larry fumbled with his keys while thousands of years of human suffering, of helplessness and disappointments…” blah blah blah. As humor it begins to work similar to the Bugs Bunny episode This is a Life where Elmer Fudd says “Tell us about your life Bugs.” Bugs answers, “In the beginning there was no life. The earth was forming. Boom! The earth shivered from earthquakes. Mountains forming, oceans boiling. All’s quiet. A little pool of water forms. In that pool two tiny amoeba.” Ok, funny stuff, this near immediate cranking every issue to metaphysical signification. But authors who deal in the world of smörja never understand this. They are too serious about everything. They think hyperbole equates to intensity.
What does our main character Oskar want? He wants to stop being bullied. He wants to see Eli. Uh, he wants to see Eli, did I say that?. He wants to know if she’s a vampire, which he knows. That’s all. Everything is so plot driven that to seek character depth within these meaningless motives is to grasp at clouds.
If you haven’t already guessed, LMI needs a massive transfusion. Oh, and by the way, no bats or coffins in sight.