It’s the story of two misanthropes and their descent into an alternate reality shopping hell. Rhoda is a junky, out to score a fix at the local mall, when she loses the kid she’s babysitting. Dan is a wage slave at the local bookstore. The two are both cheerfully revolting human beings – Dan is every spineless spoiled emo-brat blaming the world for his troubles, and Rhoda, the scarred and vicious junky is only marginally more likeable. The two unlikely companions are thrown together when Rhoda pretty much kidnaps Dan at knife point, and forces him to help her find the kid she lost.
While looking for the missing child, Dan and Rhoda end up in an empty part of the mall, left unfinished after funds ran out. And that’s where reality ends. For those who like their horror set squarely in the real world, you’re going to have to have to swallow a healthy amount of disbelief. This is where things veer off into the territory of Stephen King at his most coked-up. Rhoda and Dan are taunted by increasingly bizarre and sadistic cell-phone messages, while some nameless thing chases them through the subterranean network of service alleys and tunnels. They’ve become trapped in a bizarre game, one where they either crack the code and survive, or end up dying in one of several messy scenarios.
Finally, the two come out of the network of tunnels and parking lots, thinking they’ve finally escaped, only to find themselves in a bizarre parallel world where they are the “browns”, the undesirables.
In this hell-world, the Mall above is reflected back at them, warped by the truth. McDonalds is renamed McColon, the actors in the movies are fat and balding, the shop assistants are chained to their counters, and the shoppers are a horrific breed of desperation – amputated, anorexic, plastic surgery disasters or obese mountains of greed.
The two go their separate ways and Dan becomes a wage slave, back at work in the warped bookstore echo of the one he used to work at in the real world. Rhoda, however, becomes a Shopper. A person who quite literally shops till they drop, whose only point is to consume, no matter what. And this is where the book began to lag a little for me, I enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek satire of consumerist culture, but there were certain scenes where the horror went from deliciously creepy to cheestastic schlock (The hamburger at McColon springs to mind) .
The two finally rejoin forces to work their way through the Mall, trying to find a way out of this nightmare. When Dan and Rhoda manage to escape, they discover that the reality they knew is dulled now, greyer and somehow more boring.
Without spoiling the events of part 2 of the book I’ll say that a lot has been made out of how unlikeable the two protagonists are. I didn’t find it an issue. In fact, it’s their very unlikeableness that keeps the conclusion satisfying.
The book as a whole was tension-filled, and I kept turning pages even in the slightly flaccid middle section. I thought Dan and Rhoda made a great team, but a lousy couple, and that section of their relationship was disappointing. Luckily it’s a very minor subplot and doesn’t detract from the main story.
Certain things made me grin (I used to work for a certain SA bookstore, I feel like I also worked for a Bradley-Clone) and the two writers switching POVs worked very well for this novel. I’ll be looking forward to reading their next release.
All in all, a fast-paced read, claustrophobic, disturbing and satirical.
To win a copy of The Mall, leave me a comment and I’ll put your name in a hat. Because I’m chill like that. Yeah.