From August 23 to 24, 1981, at leat three large meterorites landed in southeastern Iowa. A prison, a farm, and a bridge were damaged in the impacts. Smaller fragments are still being discovered to this day.
Nineteen-year-old Ry Burke lives on a farm with his mother, Jo Beth, and his eleven-year-old sister, Sarah. The Burke family patriarch, Marvin—a brutal man capable of almost unimaginable cruelty—has been in prison for the past nine years. Now that the farm has gone from dying to dead, Jo Beth, Ry, and Sarah are packing up and moving to town.
Well, that's their plan.
But Marvin Burke has a different plan: and if things go the way he wants them to, his family isn't going anywhere. Ever.
I'm going to go ahead and warn you now: if Stephen King turns your stomach, Scowler will not be a good match for you. Seriously, just back away slowly.
If you're a fan of King, though, DO NOT MISS IT. Because Daniel Kraus is YA's answer to Our Mr. King*. Not just because of the ultra-visceral parts, but because he recognizes that what regular people are capable of doing to other regular people is way scarier than any supernatural monster.
It's not all King, though. The atmospheric description evokes Ray Bradbury, the magical realism of the Unnamed Three—or are they just in Ry's mind?—suggest King again, but also of old, dark fairy tales. Scowler deals in true suspense and psychological horror—Kraus never resorts to the cheesy jump scare—and the constant unease and shifting alliances reminded me of the carjacking episode of Six Feet Under and parts of Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects. If you're more inclined to be convinced by the name-dropping of a modern classic, it also made me think of In Cold Blood.
We aren't just told about the day that resulted in Marvin's incarceration: we experience it through a flashback. And when I say 'experience it', I mean EXPERIENCE IT. I went into the flashback knowing that Ry survived, and I STILL found myself holding my breath. LITERALLY HOLDING MY BREATH. It is that terrifying. Heck, even just the idea of Marvin is scary: after the family learns there's been a breach in the jail walls, there's an undercurrent of barely-controlled terror in everything Jo Beth does, heightening the tension to an almost unbearable level before Marvin even arrives.
Scariest of all, maybe: Marvin's a monster, but he's a human being who's a monster. His life experience (and his personal choices) have molded him into what he is, and there is a very real possibility that Ry will make the choice to follow him. Like the Unnamed Three, that aspect of the story evokes the darkness of old fairy tales, but it also has elements of the classic hero's quest: Ry's survival of his father as a boy and then as a man is not unlike a trip into (and then out of) hell.
Highly recommended, but it'll have a VERY specific audience.
GROSS-OUT WARNING: There is eyeball stuff.
*I'd actually shelve it in both places—it's totally a YA/A crossover—and I hope very much that Delacorte actively markets it to the Adult Horror crowd in addition to the YA world.
Book source: Review copy via Edelweiss.