Horror books are, generally, meant to shock readers. But is there such a thing as going too far? In a genre that celebrates blood and gore, can a book be too gross? The readers of TikTok certainly think so.
Aron Beauregard self-published his horror novel Playground in November of 2022, and the horror world has certainly taken notice. With a healthy catalogue of splatterpunk books under his belt, it should come as no surprise that Beauregard writes stories that push the limits of extreme. In fact, his personal mission statement proclaims his dedication to “providing his readers with fresh, cutting-edge horror at any cost.”
Yet Playground is the book that has ruffled feather and piqued curiosity all over the internet. In fact, word of how disturbing the book is has inspired some to try and finish it as a challenge. So what sets this work apart from other works of extreme horror?
In Playground, three impoverished families are offered an incredible opportunity. Money is dangled in front of them to spend a day at the estate of Geraldine Borden, and they're promised even more if they encourage their kids to test out the innovative playground equipment Borden has been developing. But her creations have been hidden away in her castle for decades for a reason: her contraptions aren't fit for the light of day.
As this group of children is subjected to unspeakable violence, their only hope of survival is to grow up—and fast. If they can't overcome their differences, the evil designs will be their doom.
From acid pools to razor slides, there is no point in this novel where Beauregard pulls his punches. Children die. Children get mutilated. It's essentially a play palace that sees a bloody crossover of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Saw. And if the graphic descriptions aren't enough, several illustrations are included as you read along.
This book is disturbing in a multitude of ways, including the twisted and abusive relationship between Borden and her adoptive son, Rock. This lays the groundwork for the infamous page 40—the point in the book at which readers most commonly throw in the towel.
Through all the gore and atrocities, at the center of this book are stories of lost childhood. Stories of children who had their peace stolen from them, who had to face the darkness of the world before their time. And it's no coincidence the targets of these atrocities were from under-privileged families.
While I've never had much of a stomach for extreme horror myself, I do think the book poses an interesting question. If the atrocities on the page are too difficult for people to face, then what are they doing to bring an end to the real-world atrocities children are facing every day?