Thursday, July 11, 2013

Review of Scowler by Daniel Kraus

Delacorte Books
for Young Readers
by Daniel Kraus
3 Stars
Nineteen-year-old-Ry, his little sister, and his Mom eke out an existence on a farm that hasn’t grown crops in years.  Yet, this little family of three are content to live in peace. But when a meteor falls from the sky and Ry’s violent father returns, all hell breaks loose. Will Ry succumb to the influence of genetics or nurture, or will otherworldly influences tip the scales in one direction or the other? And, in his case, are any of the alternatives good ones?
This is a very dark work, told mainly via the eyes of the main character, Ry,and his three toy companions, Mr. Furrington, Jesus and Scowler, who he resurrects from his childhood to help deal with the trauma of his father’s menacing return.  Perhaps it is this darkness that prevents me from appreciating the work, although I have no doubt that it required a great deal of insight into the mind of both a child dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and the mind of a sociopath. Ry’s father, Marvin, is suitably hateful, obscene and abusive, and clearly illustrates the cycle of violence that can evolve in dysfunctional families. That being said, Ry’s character not only shows the effects of child abuse (and spousal abuse for that matter) but also reflects on the idea that such sociopathy might be inherited.  In either case, the odds are stacked against Ry, and this becomes clear from the onset of Marvin’s appearance. Part survival story, part psychological exploration, the novel will certainly sicken most who read it, although at times it becomes difficult to stick with the narration when the point of view switches into the voices of Ry’s toys.The strongest characters in the novel turn out to be the females. Linda, Ry’s “therapist” is the first to peel away the layers of psychological abuse, and his mother, Jo Beth, while impotent at first, eventually steps up to the plate to protect her children. However, it is the meteor that is a seriously perplexing plot addition. While it is clear why the author chose to place the influence of the meteor in the story, it remains unclear as to why the element he chose was a meteor when other avenues may have produced a similar effect ( I can say no more without adding a spoiler). For me, the arrival of the meteor was a ploy to swing the novel into a more sci-fi genre and attract sci-fi readers, even though the work is clearly more focused on inter-personal and dysfunctional relationships. So, those of you looking for a true work of sci-fi, look elsewhere, those who want a hard core, wicked, and disturbing story about dysfunctional families and abusive relationships, be sure to give this one a go.

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