Hello, my delicious, chewy, chocolate-chip cookies! Gather round the toadstool, won’t you, while I force you to bear witness to my great and terrible nostalgia.
I was a Brownie for about three glorious months when I was a wee girl. And I was a BOSS. The whole shebang was right up my alley: fairy-tale influenced origin stories, a clearly outlined path to rising in the ranks and therefore gaining power over my peers, being sorted into tribes named after various types of fairy folk, seriously bad-ass uniforms. Listen, if my mom hadn’t yanked me out because of ‘reasons,’ I guarantee you I’d be Queen Brownie right now, ruling over an army of mini Brownies, respecting the shit out of the Brownie Law. (Believe, bruv.) In case you’re wondering, I was a Pixie. And I was the baddest Pixie in that troop.
Seriously, though. I really like the whole Brownie/Girl Guides organization. To begin with, I think it’s a pretty damn feminist concept, especially considering it was founded over a hundred years ago. I also like the way it encourages kids to get out into nature and practice their zombpocalypse survival skills. As much as I detest most organizations purely on principle – espically those with ‘mottos’ and ‘creeds’ and ‘laws,’ if I ever procreate, I will make sure my little bastard carries on the proud Aleksiewicz Brownie tradition. If only to make sure little Ursula Carolin Raven-Wolf-Moon Galadriel Aleksiewicz-Momoa can survive the post-zombpocalypse wasteland of which she will inevitably be Grand High Princess.
All this Brownie talk is making me hungry.
Believe it or not, that revolting fit of reminiscence is actually relevant to today’s review. The book we’re going to tear apart this week is all about less cool, dude version of the Brownies, the Boy Scouts. And also monstrous, genetically-modified parasites. (Bet you’re not gonna be hungry by the time I’m finished.)
This week, it’s The Troop, by Nick Cutter.
The Deal: Boy Scouts live by the motto “Be Prepared.” However, nothing can prepare this group of young boys and their scoutmaster for what they encounter on a small, deserted island, as they settle down for a weekend of campfires, merit badges, and survival lessons.
Everything changes when a haggard stranger in tattered clothing appears out of nowhere and collapses on the campers’ doorstep. Before the night is through, this stranger will end up infecting one of the troop’s own with a bioengineered horror that’s straight out of their worst nightmares. Now stranded on the island with no communication to the outside world, the troop learns to battle much more than the elements, as they are pitted against something nature never intended…and eventually each other.
(Should that be italicized because it’s the cover copy? Probably, right? Damn, I’ve been out of school too long. Okay, I’m italicizing it. Boom. *Blogger makes super-important font decision*)
Robyn says: Dude. Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuude. Dude.
This was a scary book. BUT. It wasn’t scary the way, say, Pet Sematary, is scary. Pet Sematary (by Stephen King, natch), is hands down the scariest thing I’ve ever read (not including my diary, which is also terrifying but in a different way MOVING ON). For some people, it’s The Shining or The Road or The Exorcist. Those books are driven by a cerebral sort of fear, the kind that gets in your head and sends your imagination into overdrive. This fear invades your non-reading life, so that long after you think you’ve escaped the horror in the pages, you realize it has seeped into your subconscious. When your power goes out and you’re standing in utter darkness, that fear surfaces, reminding you that worst kind of fear is that one that comes from your own unimaginably twisted, horribly creative brain.
The Troop was not that kind of scary. It was the gross, stomach-turning, brutally primitive kind of scary, the sort of Saw ‘movie’ scary. An inelegant kind of horror, but effective in its own way.
What I liked most about The Troop was the writing. This language was lovely: wonderfully descriptive, alternating between beautiful and vulgar, and always very distinctive. Cutter has a strong voice. (FYI, Cutter is actually a pseudonym for Craig Davidson, the author of the incandescent Rust and Bone. I also loved that the story took place in Prince Edward Island. Go Canada, etc.
I also really liked that this book was scary, even if it was the gross kind of scary. Definitely DO NOT read this book while you’re eating. It reminded me of Mira Grant’s Parasite mostly because they both deal with genetically modified parasites, but I preferred this book because I thought the science of the worm was more realistic, bearing in mind that both are works of fiction.
There were some things I wasn’t too fond off. I thought the plot was predictable and the pacing was a bit slow, but these are usually things that I’ll overlook if the characters are well-crafted and memorable. Alas, these characters were not what I was hoping for. I agree with some reviews I read in that the boys were archetypes, and this added to the novel’s general feeling of predictability. Scoutmaster Tim was TSTL. Ugh, Tim. This could have all been avoided if only you weren’t A COMPLETE MORON. Say no to impromptu cabin surgery, kids. The boys themselves were a Breakfast Club collection of clique representatives. Kent, the jock; Ephraim, the bad-tempered boy from the wrong side of the tracks; Max, the calm everyman; Shelley, the psychopath; and poor Newton, the chubby, perpetually-bullied nerd. I liked Ephraim the best (surprise, surprise), and I think the story might have benefited from being told from his point of view exclusively (the story is told from alternating points of view, interspersed with newspaper columns, excerpts from scientific reports, and interview transcripts – it was clumsy). I thought he was the most interesting of the boys by far, but I found his fate to be out of character for him, and another of the story’s failings.
And then there’s the turtle. The god-damn turtle. You know what, I am not emotionally stable enough to discuss the turtle right now. I probably never will be.
OH GOD MY EMOTIONS. FORGET IT, ROBYN. FORGET THE PAINNNNN–cat videos, cat videos, cat videos cat vi–*sticks fingers in ears and watches cat videos until the pain goes away*
Boy Scouts, man. Listen to me, none of this shit would have happened to Brownies. Brownies would have taken one look at Patient Zero and SHUT IT DOWN, Brownie-style. Because Brownies are BAMFs.
Verdict: Read it. Yes, despite its failings, I enjoyed this book. It was an easy read – I tore through it in two days – and delightfully disgusting and creepy and Canadian. After you read it, maybe pick up Scott Smith’s The Ruins – I LOVED this book (hopefully one day I’ll muster the motivation to write a review extolling its many virtues). It’s similar to The Troop, but surpasses it in many ways. And waaay better than the movie.
Best lines: “There is an emotion that operates on a register above sheer terror. It lives on a mindless dog-whistle frequency. Its existence is in itself a horrifying discovery: like scanning a short-wave radio in the dead of night and tuning in to an alien wavelength–a heavy whisper barely climbing above the static, voices muttering in a brutal language that human tongues could never speak.” (p. 130)
Rating: Three and a half mutant worms. (I know, predictable. Whatever. Lay off me, I just had to relive the turtle incident in my mind and I’m in a very fragile place right now. Send cake and Jason Momoa.)
Er… gotta go, guys. I think my cat and I have to have a talk about youtube. Smell ya later, punks!