Fictions & Fandoms Review of SLENDER MAN
Ripped straight from the forum posts that created its titular modern day internet boogey man, Slender Man seems constructed from online culture’s spare parts, assembled as a “found footage” narrative.
Surprisingly, it mostly works.
Functionally, its 335 pages are more like a novella. Many pages are devoted to text message chains, comment threads, email exchanges, and audio recording transcriptions. The remaining volume is filled with journal entries and occasional creative writing passages from the novel’s protagonist.
A lot of negative space fills these pages. The whole thing reads very fast, with the spiraling acceleration of a movie thriller.
“Found Footage” Comparisons
The novel reminded me in many ways of Marisha Pessl’s Night Film – with its webpage reproductions and fever dream paranoia – and Edgar Cantero’s The Supernatural Enhancements – also a “found footage” novel. Both those books feel experimental, exude style, and ratchet tension while playing with your perception. They both also flounder in their third acts and don’t quite stick the landing.
Though Slender Man lacks Night Film’s dizzying intensity and Enhancement’s cleverness, the loose narrative holds together through the end, delivering a satisfactory (non)conclusion.
It won’t challenge you the way those novels will, of course. This is the book version of a Netflix and chill, fast food entertainment. But it doesn’t feel like empty calories, either. There’s sufficient commentary on the human psyche, and its power to anthropomorphize our fears, to chew on after you set the book aside.
Only One Character Really Matters
Up front, though, Slender Man really has just one multi-dimensional character: Mark, a privileged, intellectual but awkward student at an expensive New York City private school. There are many other people in the story, but they are essentially “speaking roles”, voices recorded or transcribed, actions noted in Mark’s therapist-mandated journal.
Mark’s is the only character with an arc or any true development. While plenty of the documents and recordings that make up the narrative do not include him, he is often the subject of them, at least tangentially.
From a craft standpoint, a world populated by two dimensional talking heads doesn’t register as very compelling. The net effect, though, is a largely uncomplicated reading experience that can be absorbed quickly. (Unless you are slowed down by excessive swearing. There is a LOT of swearing.)
There’s a Missing Girl — Because Of Course There Is
When Mark’s popular classmate, Lauren, goes missing, it sends shockwaves through their school which then spread outward to the media. Laura’s affluent father has been attached to minor celebrity scandal in the past, which draws interest of a salacious nature.
Though they filter through very different social circles, Mark and Lauren have been friends since grade school. They maintain an almost secret dialogue which both are happy to obfuscate from their other friends.
Lauren is oddly obsessed with horror stories, gore, and creepypasta (the real-life internet phenomenon of user-generated paranormal stories, which spawned the Slender Man mythos). Mark is the one confidante who humors her dark interests, though they have little appeal for him. He’s just content to have a friend outside of the normal flow of his social life.
Thankfully, Slender Man never plays this relationship as anything more than devotedly platonic, avoiding all cliches of unrequited love or cross-clique romantic tension.
It Came From the Internet…
Lauren vanishes at the same time Mark struggles against intense and debilitating nightmares. Under a barrage of scrutiny — from unsympathetic cops, an antagonistic classmate, agitated peers, and an unscrupulous journalist — Mark closes himself off. Withholding some information from the police, he attempts to do an investigation of his own.
Sanity-shattering nightly dreams couple with suspicious real life occurrences, leading him to consider an otherworldly source for his friend’s disappearance — a mysterious entity he knows he shouldn’t believe in, but feels drawn to nonetheless.
Afraid to speak his fears to family or friends, Mark seeks help from Reddit, enlisting the questionable aid of a mysterious emailer who warns him, repeatedly, to “be careful”. When his nightmares bleed over into the physical world, Mark is faced with a choice motivated by a dangerous alchemy of bravery and frantic desperation.
A Sometimes Messy Reading Experience
Slender Man has some problems. The frequent grammatical errors may in fact be intentional, adding to the found footage feel.
Certain elements feel repetitive, though, familiar scenes that circle back again and again: Mark’s best friend, Jamie, is badgered by police but can provide few useful observations. Steve Allison, the popular ex-boyfriend of Lauren, is an angry, aggressive jerk in WhatsApp threads that show up often but don’t advance the plot. The emails between Mark and the Reddit supporter feel circular and redundant, especially the “be careful” refrain.
There’s also an odd bit where several throwaway comments from Mark reference a “Brad”, who might have been a friend of his parents, and might have run into some nameless but unusual trouble. It feels like a dangling bit of interesting background story. But those mentions don’t pay off. They feel like artifacts of an earlier draft where this Brad character maybe had a significant role to play but was later excised.
It would be an interesting thing to ask the author. But, then, one of the gimmicks of Slender Man is that there is no author attribution! The trade dress has no author name, and if you look the book up online it says “Anonymous”.
That’s a good bit of a gag considering the meta nature of the material, though. Inside, with the usual ISBN and legal info, the copyright for the work is given to a “Mythology Entertainment, LLC”.
Indeed, there’s some sense to having the protection of an LLC around such a work. After all, the Slender Man mythos has had its share of dangerous controversy. Back in 2014, two grade school girls attempted to murder their friend in order to court favor with the Slender Man, whom they’d read about online and believed to be real.
Their victim survived, but her two assailants will likely spend most of their lives incarcerated in mental institutions. When a Slender Man movie was released this year, it drew numerous criticisms for sensationalizing real life tragedy, including from the families of the assailants.
Thankfully, this Slender Man story isn’t “ripped from the headlines” of those real-life events, but instead plumbs the depth of internet lore to flesh out a relatively straightforward plot. I doubt it advances the legend of the Slender Man in any meaningful fashion, and it doesn’t have the visceral emotional punch of horror. But it uses its source material to solid effect and delivers a fast, entertaining, suspenseful reading experience.
I enjoyed this book more than I would have expected. I think it’s pretty light entertainment for something in the horror genre, but it made a solid, creepy read for a dark, fall evening.
Am I the intended audience for this book?
I would expect this book is aimed more at late teens/early 20s readers, especially ones already familiar with the Slender Man character. Also, the story leans a lot on sites and apps that I’m only passingly familiar with, like Reddit, CreepyPasta, and WhatsApp. Wasn’t detrimental to my reading experience, though.
Would I have picked this book up off a store shelf?
The cover art is really cool! The Slender Man character, with his spindly body and sprouting tentacles, has a spot gloss treatment that makes it stand out. It’s weird and creepy and evocative. I saw it on the shelf at my local bookseller last night, and it does catch the eye.
Will I keep it on my bookshelf?
I don’t know how likely I am to revisit this book, but the cover design alone may keep it in my collection for awhile.