Review: “The Cellar,” Richard Laymon

Rating: 1 out of 5

This time I’m going to put the content note right up front, because it’s important. DO NOT read this book if you don’t want to deal with child molestation and rape. (Also slurs, victim-blaming, murder, explicit sex, and some minor gore.)

WARNING: review contains spoilers

This should be obvious to anyone who is familiar with Richard Laymon, but he doesn’t write dark, thoughtful stories of abuse. He writes action-oriented horror. I’ve heard his work described as “a bit rapey,” but The Cellar (Beast House) really takes the cake, and ensures I won’t read any more of his work.

There are ways to address subjects like child molestation and rape such that they’re handled thoughtfully, sensitively, and without any prurient overtones. Yeah, Laymon doesn’t write like that. Instead, particularly since scenes involving or alluding to child rape are told from the adult’s view, his style definitely comes across as prurient. It’s blatantly sexualized. There’s victim-blaming (the mother of the child who was raped in the past thinks, with regard to a young woman being scantily clad, “The girl’s going to get herself raped”). In addition, there are details that imply some of the young women enjoy being sexually assaulted (and not in a “this is horrible but my body reacted anyway” kind of manner).

This is particularly the case at the end (like I said, spoilers in this review) where a twelve-year-old seems excited by the idea of one of her captors making her pregnant, and her mother, also a captive, mostly just comes across as cranky, not horrified. One young girl who’s been raped does become catatonic for a while, but the first time she comes around enough to be responsive, she’s described as “pouting.” As though having been kidnapped, kept in a car trunk, and raped was about as bad as being told she can’t have ice cream for dessert.

That’s the major thing that got to me, but there are others. The only Black character in the entire story is someone’s memory of the “fat, black face” of a dictator he killed. Donna (the mother) has a sister Karen, whom she tells that her rapist ex-husband is out of jail and that she’s fled the area, but the ex-husband catches Karen sunning herself outside, completely unaware of her surroundings, despite the fact that she should be worried that the guy might track her down while looking for Donna. Donna ends up holding hands with the male lead, Jud, after one meal together. Then, when Donna has to help Jud patch himself up after a fight, she gets all hot-and-bothered and starts kissing him passionately while he’s bleeding all over the place. And then has sex with him on the bathroom floor (thankfully after he’s bandaged up this time) while there’s another guy in the next room of their motel cabin. Then she also has sex with him while they’re waiting in her room fully expecting her ex-husband to show up at any moment, knowing he’s in town and has been told where she is. It’s ridiculous.

I definitely do not recommend this book, for all of the reasons enumerated above. It’s easy these days to find something better to read.

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