When I saw that Mr. Kraus had another novel out, I jumped at the chance to read it. Scowler has a similar father-son dynamic, and it is clear that pathological relationships between fathers and their teenage sons is a central theme for Mr. Kraus. I hope his relationship with his own father is or was better than the characters in his books. Martin Burke is a brutally abusive man, capable of inflicting torture-like abuse of his wife and children. When he goes one step too far with an act perpetrated against his wife that is so repugnant and horrific, his then nine year old son Ry risks his own life to rescue his mother. Ry is brutally beaten by his father as result, but still manages to disable his father long enough (in an incredibly unnerving passage) so that his father is arrested and imprisoned for ten years.
Most of the action in the book takes place ten years after the incident leading to Martin’s arrest (which is dramatically and effectively told in flashback). Ry is 19, still living at home with his mother and younger sister. In a freak meteorite shower – and I realize this sounds really lame, but believe me it fits perfectly within the story – Martin escapes from prison and returns home and terrorizes his family. The ensuing action takes place in about 24 hours – and the portrayal of Martin Burke is so convincing that the purest evil of this monstrous psychopath comes alive in every sentence. When he isn’t “on stage” his presence is felt. The main character, though, is Ry. Now a young man of 19, Ry did not escape unscathed from the nightmare of ten years ago. This was a defining moment in his life and it colored everything that happened during his adolescence including his relationships with his mother, peers, and a potential love interest. When Martin reappears to the utter horror of his family thanks to an errant meteorite, he renews his savage attacks on them. In the process, Ry’s fragile makeup is shattered. Whatever strengths he possessed are carved away with an astounding rapidity. Indeed, the Ry’s psychological disintegration is devastating to the other characters and the reader. The finale was loaded with thrills and anguish and is quite unforgettable.
Scowler is an outstanding novel. Don’t be put off by a YA classification. The story is gripping, unsettling, and haunting. Highly recommended.