When he was 10 years old, Ry Burke survived a brutal beating and a harrowing, near death experience fleeing from his father through a dense forest. Ry’s head trauma and terror caused him to believe that three toys, Mr. Furrington, Jesus Christ and Scowler, were alive and talking to him. Mr. Furrington, a small teddy bear, is a playful and affectionate friend; Jesus Christ, a gumby-esque plastic figure, is a wise and kind advisor; Scowler, a “doll” hand made with a metal skeleton, cornmeal stuffing and sea shell teeth, is an aggressive and blood-thirsty fighter. It is their advice that ultimately helps Ry survive the forest.
Now that Ry is 19 and his father is in jail, he’s still on the family’s farm helping his mother where he can. It’s a miserable, boring life for Ry, but he doesn’t know how to change it. Little does Ry know, a meteor is on a collision course with his farm and it brings all the nightmares Ry thought he outgrew.
After reading/listening to Rotters by Daniel Kraus, I started Scowler expecting an intense book. I was not disappointed. In fact, there were several times I had to talk myself down from the “this is too intense for me right now, I should stop reading” ledge.
I am not going to say I enjoyed Scowler, because I don’t think it’s one of those books that you really enjoy. Instead, I think it’s more accurate to say that I experienced Scowler. Kraus has a way of slowing down a scene so that you see it in every single horrifying detail. You know where the scene is going when it starts, but you’re compelled to keep reading the minutia as Kraus lays them before you because you simply are not able to do anything else.
Like Rotters, I both read and listened to Scowler. The narrator, Kirby Heyborne, does everything right which makes the book even more intense. Kraus’s characters are incredibly flawed–with the possible exception of Ry’s younger sister Sarah–and Heyborne’s narration so completely captures the flaws and the perfections of these characters that they become tangible.
I started the process of giving up caffeine while reading Scowler because I felt jittery and anxious much of the day. Now that I finished Scowler and have had a moment to take a full breath, maybe I don’t need to give caffeine up after all.