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A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.


Book 39/100: Scowler by Daniel Kraus

Scowler - Daniel Kraus

This book wasn't quite what I wanted it to be. The premise caught my attention because of the premise of imaginary friends: as a child, Ry "creates" three imaginary friends (Mr. Furrington, Jesus Christ, and Scowler) to help him cope with his father's abuse. Years later, when his father escapes prison, Ry finds that his "friends" return.

The examination of the psychology of the imaginary friends was fascinating, and really all I could have hoped for in taking a close look at the subject. There were even a few truly surprising moments involving the friends and the meaning they played in Ry's life, and beyond into his family.

But far too little of the book featured the imaginary friends, and the rest of it didn't interest me as much. It was a little slow to start, with a lot of backstory before the premise is even really embarked upon. The sense of place -- the farmhouse, the dusty cornfields, the woods and the sheds and the summer heat, felt oppressive and vivid to me -- perhaps because I grew up in a similar setting, but it's more than that. "Scowler" manages to imbue these familiar settings with dark undertones; indeed, everything about this story is a little unsettling, from Ry's sister's frequent illnesses, to Ry's failed sexual experimentations, to their mother's wheedling of their abusive father.

The abuse, and the vivid, gory detail in which its consequences are described, was something that I was not prepared for. This was not an easy book to listen to while preparing or eating food. One of the imaginary friends, Scowler, was just as creepy as the author intended. If you really want a fright, I suggest going for the audio version -- both Scowler's voice and Ry's father, Marvin's, will give you the chills.

So with so much going for it, why give the book only three stars? The truth is, I just didn't *enjoy* this book, not even the way one is sometimes riveted to something that is appalling. It was unsettling enough that I feel a little queasy just thinking of it. Horror is not really my thing, and I didn't realize this book would be so submersed in horror. Also, the third-person omniscient narrative was used, which is my least favorite narrative style -- I often find myself drifting away when the author moves too often between one character and another.

I was really looking forward to reading this one, but I can't say I'm particularly glad to have it in my repertoire; it didn't live up to my expectations and was overall a rather unpleasant experience.