Scowler: nightmare-fuel horror novel about a monstrous father

Daniel Kraus's previous book, Rotters, was an outstandingly gross and delightful young adult novel about a kid who discovers that his dad is a grave-robber, and part of an ancient, mystic fraternity of corpse-stealers. It was full of squishy, spectacularly described scenes of decomposition and decay, taut suspense, and perfect gross-out moments. When I picked up his new book Scowler, I expected the same.

Very quickly, though, I realized that I was reading a book squarely aimed at adults, a book that did all the stuff that Rotters had done, but turned the dial up to 11. Where the horror in Rotters was the delicious, peek-between-your-fingers variety, Scowler is built around scenes of such terrifying grisliness and cruelty that it'll keep you up at night for weeks afterwards -- the kind of nightmare fuel you get in novels like The Wasp Factory, say. But this isn't gross-out horror: the terror comes as much from piano-wire taut tension and spectacular characters as from viscera.

Indeed, it's the two characters at the center of Scowler that give it its punch. The first is Ry, a gangly, awkward farm-boy who lives with his mother and little sister on a dying farm that is on the brink of bankruptcy. The second is Ry's father, Marvin, who has been in prison ever since he nearly murdered Ry, eight years before, when the boy was only 11, in a horrific encounter that has left Ry emotionally and physically scarred. The novel opens with many ticking bombs: an impending meteor shower, the imminent abandonment of the farm, the stretched-to-breaking relationship between Ry and his mother.

Quickly, the novel goes into overdrive. As we learn more about Ry's past, we discover the sort of monster his father was, and before long, there's the threat that the monster might return -- or that Ry might become the monster. Marvin is one of the great monsters of literature, a figure of immense, credible terror and savagery. Ry's own fear that he might become his father is just as credible, and Kraus's masterful raising-of-stakes makes this into the sort of diaster you can't possibly look away from.


Update: Random House Audio has produced an audiobook version read by Kirby Heyborne (who also reads the audio edition of Little Brother), and they sell it as a DRM-free CDs direct from their site (a welcome alternative to Audible/iTunes, which requires DRM for audiobooks even when the publisher and writer object).


    1. Yeah, this is some horrible book cover design. All I thought was Walter White – which makes me feel like it’s a rip off of Breaking Bad’s ‘bad Dad’ trope.

      1. I’m sure it’s meant to evoke Walter, which is not terribly surprising given standard book publishing marketing techniques and tactics. (Wander around Barnes & Noble’s YA fiction section and you’ll see that a majority of the books seemed aimed squarely at Twilight and Hunger Games fandoms, although it’s arguable that the reason why that section is so big is because of those series’ popularity.) 

  1. ‘Scowler is built around scenes of such terrifying grisliness and cruelty it’ll keep you up at night for weeks afterward’

    Hmmmmm *weighs love of a good story in one hand and love of a good night’s sleep in the other*… nope, think I’ll pass, and I loved ‘Rotters’.  There’s such a thing as overselling, Cory.

  2. I’ve read The Wasp Factory, and didn’t see it as horror.  Truly bizarre, but aside from the burning dogs it wasn’t all that scary.  Did I miss the point?

    1. When I read *that* scene (involving a baby) I had to put the book down, and go sit in the lounge with my friend for half an hour or so just to be able to chill out slightly, and I don’t usually get affected by most stuff.

      1. Yeah, that was pretty nasty, but honestly? When someone recommended the book to me they talked up that scene a lot without saying exactly what happened, and once I read it, I didn’t think that it quite warranted the build-up that my friend had given it. Maybe it’s because I saw movies like Galaxy of Terror and Humanoids from the Deep when I was younger.

  3. A college job of mine was minding the True Crime section at Bookstop. How I LOATHED the people that frequented that section and their fascination with twisted murder and grisly torture. While I emphatically don’t equate playing Halo to gun violence the opposite is true of the murder and horror “literature” genre. It emboldens and tutors that segment of the population most likely to emulate what they read. I’m not going to draft legislation to ban it – but I sure would appreciate not seeing it plugged on BoingBoing.

Comments are closed.