To begin this review, let’s look at the versatile word visceral.
vis·cer·al [víssərəl] adjective
1. felt in or as if in the internal organs of the body : deep <a visceral conviction>
2. not intellectual : instinctive, unreasoning <visceral drives>
3. dealing with crude or elemental emotions : earthy <a visceral novel>
I sincerely doubt a more appropriate word could be found for the blithely appalling The Troop by Nick Cutter. It’s the gruesome tale of a killer tapeworm; it’s revolting, grotesque, and dare I say slightly deranged. This is high praise for a horror novel. I can’t say I enjoyed the story, but I appreciate it for what it is – a gory novel designed to make a reader uncomfortable (and a bit squeamish).
Every year Scoutmaster Dr. Tim Riggs takes his troop of five boys (now young teenagers) to an uninhabited island off the coast of the barely inhabited northern shore of Prince Edward Island. Only this trip, things get off to a rocky start when a pallid, painfully emaciated man emerges from the ocean. The man is clearly sick, but so, SO hungry. Tim, unnerved by the man’s presence, is at a loss. He spends the night contemplating what to do – while eating the cabin’s food supply. He decides to operate. The man dies, but what emerges out of his body is something out of a nightmare. Tim doesn’t feel right. Teenager Kent isn’t feeling good either. Soon the boys and the scoutmaster turn on each other.
This is not a novel to be appreciated by the masses. It’s a horror novel for horror readers who prefer to blood-soaked, unnerving imagery over traditional scare tactics. There’s not a lot to be scared of (except the vocal, flying tapeworms, but if you can get past those…(I couldn’t)). Instead it’s the story of survival at all costs – think Lord of the Flies meets Parasite. It’s graphic. It’s bloody. It’s disgusting*. The boys are stereotypical: there’s quiet, intelligent Newton, creepy, psychotic Shelly**, calm Max, volatile Ephraim, and big, but not smart Kent. This does not mean they are not entertaining. The deterioration and fear the boys feel reads authentically, as does the dialogue. The characters just aren’t the most original you’ll encounter.
I’m really selling this book right now, aren’t I? It’s not my intention to disparage The Troop. Conversely, I intend to recommend it. It’s well-paced, well-plotted, and thoroughly off-putting. And for what it’s worth, horror aficionados love The Troop. Scott Smith loved it. It even scared Stephen King – “The Troop scared the hell out of me, and I couldn’t put it down. This is old-school horror at its best.”. I liked it, it’s bloody good (…sorry). I’d advise reading it, with the qualifier that you must love horror. This is not a novel that spans genres (like The Terror, which is horror, but still able to be enjoyed by most readers). It’s old-school. It’s visceral***. It’ll make you think twice about what you put in your mouth. Ultimately, it does what it sets out to do. And I can’t complain about that. 3.5/5.
They covered all their favorites. The peach cobbler at Freida’s Diner that came with a scoop of just-starting-to-melt vanilla ice cream. The porterhouse steak Max’s father cooked up at the annual summer barbeque, two inches thick and marbled with rick melty fat. The pies from Sammy’s down in Tignish – you had to pay five buck extra for delivery to North Point, but it was so worth is to scarf down on of those slightly chewy slices covered in little spicy pepperonis and mozzarella cheese.
This novel is rife with food references. After all, the infected are hungry. Everything from pancakes to spark plugs is consumed – this includes wood lice, earwigs, couches, tarps, hot dogs, crackers, etc. – but when the boys fantasize about getting back home, their fantasy food is pizza. As far as I’m concerned, they’re quite right, The Troop**** is best served with pepperoni pizza.
So….horror fan? Or are you going to stay far, far away from anything that has a huge, sentient worm erupting out of a surgical incision? Regardless, you have to admit that these teenage boys have good food fantasies. If you were stuck on a deserted island, what food would you fantasize about?
*Disgusting, in this case, is defined as a crushed skull (oozing brain matter, naturally), a prolapsed anus, worm-infested lesions, perforated stomach linings, and the consumption of earwigs and algae. Enjoy your pizza!
**How is it that people who are so clearly psychotic and unhinged always go unnoticed? I really want to know.
***As for why visceral is such a perfect word… Definition 1: I assure you this novel is felt in your internal organs – they’ll cower in fear, especially your intestines and stomach. Definition 2: It’s not an intelligent novel that you ponder when it’s through; it’s a gut-wrenching, cringe-worthy gore-fest. Definiton 3: Crude is accurate, see first asterisk.
****And finally, this novel was given to me in exchange for an honest review. It will be released on February 25, 2014.