Reviewed by Scott A. Johnson
Written by Jeff Strand
Published by Leisure Books
Jeff Strand is developing quite a following. With his last book, Pressure (review here), he set himself up to be a bright new voice in the horror world. With Dweller he shows us that not only can he build a tight story, but he can also build one that is oddly poignant, touching, and just as bloody as can be.
Toby Floren was just eight years old when he first met the monster in the woods. As you might imagine, it scared the hell out of him. But that didn’t stop him from going back, befriending the beast, and naming him Owen. So begins the lifelong stormy friendship of Toby and Owen, whose lives more or less involve only each other. Toby has no real friends, is socially awkward, and often dreams up ways of exacting revenge on the bullies that torment him every day. Owen, on the other hand, is alone, possibly the last of his kind, and more than willing to accept the treats Toby brings in exchange for some friendship. Of course, anyone else who comes around Owen somehow winds up dead and eaten, but then again, what friendship is perfect?
Dweller is an odd sort of story in that just when you think you have it pinned down, Strand goes and does something unexpected. We’re told the story from Toby’s point of view, but not in a traditional way. Strand employs what the book refers to as “glimpses” to take a pertinent piece of a conversation and slip it in to provide the reader with just enough information to paint the picture of Toby’s mental or emotional state. While what we get is essentially a one-sentence paragraph, it is a strangely effective technique in Strand’s hands.
The characters in the book, Toby and Owen, could be mirrors of the same soul. Toby is an outcast in his own world, mainly due to his own social ineptitude, while Owen is an outcast because his kind are very few and far between. In the beginning Owen is shown to be more than a monster, and throughout the book he grows into something less of a grotesque thing and more of an intelligent, caring being. We watch Toby grow up, from age eight to age sixty-five, and several times it becomes questionable just who the monster really is and what could keep an old man returning to a monster in the woods instead of making friends of his own kind.
Lest you think this book is to become the next Disney flick, Strand has filled quite a few pages with blood and mayhem. Owen is described as something similar to a Bigfoot with huge claws and teeth, and using them, he does a wonderful job of painting the ground with blood. In fact, the first few pages of the book seem like they’re going to be sedate but end up being remarkably horrific.
From the first few paragraphs I was hooked on this book. It isn’t one I would’ve picked up normally, but I am glad I did. It’s quirky, strange, and not quite what one would expect, but it is well worth the read. Strand shows once again that he is a talented writer with a unique style and a warped imagination.
4 out of 5
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