Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Reader's Diary #1164- Nick Cutter: The Troop

First off, I'll say up front that I devoured Nick Cutter's The Troop, reading the bulk of it over just a couple of days. And for me lately, that's quite an accomplishment. In comparison, I've been working another book for over half a year now. I was entertained the entire way through. So, with that in mind, any issues which I get into below should probably be considered minor.

The Troop is a horror novel set off the coast of Prince Edward Island. That alone was enough to pique my interest. That's not something you read everyday. Initially it even scared me. Keep in mind, I cut my reading teeth on Stephen King books and though I thoroughly enjoyed them, prided myself on never really being scared (okay, so maybe the Shining... a little). But with The Troop, I found myself skittish. On edge. Partially, maybe, it's because I'm older, a little out of practice in the horror department, but I think Cutter's got the goods.

It begins with a strange, ravenous man appearing in rural PEI. He eats like mad in unbelievable quantities, and yet he looks to be starving, skin stretched over bone. But things don't get really bad until he visits an island, just off the coast, where a boy scout troop is camping. They're all alone except for their leader. It's got some epistolary elements; newspaper clippings, trial testimony, that sort of stuff, but the story itself is told on straightforward.

I thought, at first, it was going to be a zombie tale. It's not. What it is, I won't say, except that it's far more original than that. Unfortunately, when the truth is revealed, it's also a little less scary (more weird, mind you). The mystery of just what the heck was going on had added to the early suspense.

There's also a bit of overkill.

We went to see San Andreas last week. I wasn't, of course, expecting a lot beyond summer blockbuster special effects, and that's exactly what we got. But still, it sort of annoyed me afterwards. A giant earthquake hitting California is not implausible. And such a story could have been exciting, could have had a human interest angle, without being so stupid. They went over the top with it, when it really wasn't necessary. Likewise with The Troop. The biggest issue I had with the entire book was the revelation that one of the boys on the island happens to be psychotic. It was entirely pointless and though I already had to suspend my belief a lot by that point already, that was the piece I just couldn't get behind. First off, the man responsible for the whole ordeal, it turns out is also psychotic, making that two crazies in one story. A bit much. It felt like an annoying distraction more than anything else. Do the far-fetched scary science bit, but balance it out with mostly plausible characters. That should be a rule.

Luckily, by that point, I was already long on board and had to follow it through. 

Of a less concern was the authenticity of the setting. I am not from Prince Edward Island, but I am from rural Newfoundland (outport Newfoundland, to be more accurate), and expected it to feel more similar than it did. Maybe it's not really that similar, or maybe Cutter didn't get it right. That would take an PEIslander  to evaluate, I suppose.


Anonymous said...

The trouble with being advanced readers, which all of us book bloggers are, is that even are "summer fare" has to be up to a higher standard. Books like this one, movies like San Andreas, aren't meant to be thought about and debated, but they still have to maintain our suspension of disbelief. That's not so easy to do with advanced readers like us.

This one sounds like it would make for a fun summer movie.

John Mutford said...

James: It's interesting to note that Nick Cutter is a pseudonym for Craig Davidson, who is well-respected in the literary world (i.e., those advanced readers, you write of). He was shortlisted, under his real name, for the prestigious Giller Prize. So, I suspect this the pseudonym is his way of telling us not to expect too much.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I have been hearing about this Nick Cutter personality, and it's interesting to read your take on this book. I trust your judgment on the authenticity of the sense of place (despite the obvious differences between outport NL and PE). I would be curious to hear an islander's perception too.