Genre: Horror Fiction
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Pub. Year: 1974
My Halloween book for 2018 was written in 1974 by Jeffrey Konvitz. I read this book the year after I graduated high school (dating myself) and I remember it scaring the bejesus out of me. I was wondering if it still could. It did, but with noticeable flaws. As a teen in 1968, I read “Rosemary’s Baby.” And in 1973, I read “The Exorcist.” Both books better stand the test of time than this one did. I can see what attracted me back then to the “Sentinel.” As a native New Yorker, I enjoyed that the setting takes place in the Big Apple. The teenage me would have found the protagonist, a beautiful-but-troubled fashion model to be a fascinating character simply because she was a model.
Here is a snapshot of the plot. The heroine moves into an old brownstone building and befriends the other occupants who are bizarrely eccentric. Sounds like “Rosemary’s Baby” right? Wrong—I actually found these neighbors even spookier (possible spoiler) because the reader is not sure if they truly exist or are part of the model’s imagination. The house is inhabited on the top floor by a reclusive blind Catholic priest, who may or may not be evil. He spends his time sitting at his open window. Yes, such a thought can still scare the Catholic schoolgirl in me. Is our heroine crazy or is she in hell? The book also has an unsolved murder in its plot. This would be the deceased wife of our heroine’s boyfriend. I can’t say anymore about him or it would be a spoiler.
So why didn’t this book stand the test of time? First of all, as an adult, I was pissed off that her loving boyfriend uses his hands on her. Plus, her abusive father is written as such an insane deviant, he is not a believable character. Not to mention that a lesbian couple are referred to as perverts. Okay, there was no PC in the 1970s hopefully we have all grown since then. But what bothered me most was how the story’s lewdness seems to have been written for shock value only and that seldom works. Maybe I am being too critical. Stephen King’s “Carrie,” which was published in 1973, also had a crazy religious fanatic parent who beats her daughter. I guess I need to reread King’s first novel to see if it also feels dated. Still, I feel that “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Exorcist” are superior to “Sentinel” because, like another King novel “The Stand,” they are basically fables about good vs. evil, which means we are talking about the Bible. According to the March 2007 “Time” edition “the Bible has done more to shape literature, history, entertainment, and culture than any book ever written. Its influence on world history is unparalleled, and shows no signs of abating.” Now that is staying power. And let’s face it: when it comes to horror inspired by the bible nothing is more terrifying.
Click here to open the link to purchase “The Sentinel.”
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