Two kids form a strange bond with a partly see-through anatomical doll, discovering sex and violence in the process. It’s a deeply odd and gothic story and Neiderman hits it out of the park.
Brought up by a well-meaning but profoundly misguided father and a remote, slightly unhinged mom, the kids get to know Pin the doll, short for Pinocchio, when their dad the doctor uses his skills for ventriloquism to make him speak at his office. At first it’s a bit of harmless fun, but it soon gets increasingly cringeworthy. For the son, Leon, the lines of reality and imagination begin to blur and soon he’s having conversations with Pin on his own. After the now teenage kids’ parents die in an accident, they’re left on their own devices and Leon’s obsession with Pin escalates.
Neiderman is probably best known as the ghost writer for V.C. Andrews and her gothic family sagas featuring mansions and kids having incestual sex. The same ingredients can be found here, with the doctor regaling the kids with his theories about “the Need” that needs to be fulfilled. The kids are soon having sex left and right, and occasionally have some questionable experiences with each other as well. And sometimes Leon wants Pin to participate.
Being the more balanced sibling, Ursula the older daughter later forms a relationship with an affable outsider, Stan, which of course triggers murderous jealousy in Leon. Pin, meanwhile, remains cool and collected, an emotionless, slightly psychotic piece of plastic with opinions to match.
The same coolness permeates the whole novel, despite the gothic overtones ripe for excess. The subject matter might be sensational, but it’s told in a calm, detached manner befitting Pin’s mental landscape, a mindset increasingly shared by Leon the obviously unreliable narrator. Why are the kids so twisted, why are Leon’s emotions so stilted? Probably because they were brought up in a weird home by unfeeling parents, and one of the kids had a touch of (probably inherited) mental illness to begin with. Although a piece of plastic will speak, there’s nothing supernatural here, it’s all a bit creepier and a lot more unwholesome.
Needless to say Pin is a fantastic novel, with subject matter so original it seems both completely modern and classic at the same time. A novel of the eighties with a timeless sense of horror.