“The demon offspring of Stephen King’s The Shining and Hitchcock’s Psycho.”
That’s what Michael Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Gone and BRZK, is quoted as saying on the back of Scowler, the newest brainchild of the world of the weird author Daniel Kraus. I knew I should have geared up for disappointment right there.
I fell in love with Kraus and his writing style when I picked up a copy of his 2011 novel Rotters, which centered on a boy and his grave-digging father. And when a friend informed me that the author had come out with another novel, it took me no time at all to have it ordered and shipped. But where Rotters soared in imagery and excitement, Scowler can’t’t even get off the ground.
The novel is centered on a young man, Ry Burke, who lives on a dying farm with his mother, little sister and the memories of an abusive father. When a meteorite falls from the sky and lands on their property, it brings not only something out-of-this-world, but also the man that Ry and his family have been trying to run from for the past nine years. Cue the long lost imaginary friends.
That’s right, I said imaginary friends. A ratty teddy bear named Mr. Furrington, an 8-foot tall Jesus Christ and a bloodthirsty troll-machine-creature called Scowler, to be exact.
Where Kraus managed to warp a boy’s coming of age tale into an exhilaratingly disturbed visualization of a secret underworld lurking in the shadows of night with Rotters, he made Ry and his situation feel like the silly setting of a cheap, 1980s alien flick. Gone were the beautiful descriptions of terrifying things. Gone were the incredible layered characters. Instead we have a very flat (and predictable) villain, a protagonist too complicated to understand and three toys turned imaginary friends who add nothing to the novel except a good eye-catcher for the back of the book.
I understand that Scowler isn’t supposed to be about toys coming to life or spine-tingling moments of pure fear, but rather the exploration of how an abused child carries the weight of the abuser. But it isn’t insightful. It’s confusing and hard to read, even boring in spots. Kraus and his novel have not, in any conclusive way, redefined the genre of Young Adult Horror. He’s simply warped it.