Saturday, April 24, 2010

Dweller: A Novel by Jeff Strand

Remember that imaginary friend you had as a kid? What if he wasn’t imaginary, and what if he was actually a monster? A big, hairy monster with sharp claws, and even sharper teeth?

In DWELLER, the author touches on some of the same themes that have made the DIARY OF A WIMPY KID books so popular, but gives them an extra twist, with a side order of blood splatter. Toby Floren was once just an average little boy who one day got lost while playing in the woods, and came face-to-face with a real, live monster. He lived to tell the tale, which no one, of course, believed. Faced with his parents’ calm rationalizations, he begins to doubt his own story, and eventually consigns the experience to the realm of nightmares. Unfortunately, Toby’s life is now inevitably entwined with that of the monster, who is not the figment of his overly-active imagination, but is instead horrifyingly real. Using a very well-done flash forward technique, the author moves the reader forward a few years at a time, throughout the the rest of Toby’s long—and thoroughly messed up—life.


As a teenager, Toby is lonely, skinny and (understandably perhaps) a bit odd. He spends a great deal of time alone in the same woods he once played in as a child, and stumbles upon a cave, which is all-too-obviously occupied. Toby discovers there really IS a monster, and that the monster is just as lonely as he is. The two misfit outcasts forge an odd friendship, finely balanced on the razor sharp edge of claws, teeth, human frailties and teetering sanity. An object of ridicule among his peers and the favorite target of a pair of merciless bullies, Toby is one day pushed to the emotional breaking point by those same bullies, and does a Very Bad Thing. Not knowing where else to turn, Toby turns to his hairy, sharp-tooth pal (who he has by now named “Owen”) to help cover his crime.

Haunted by what he’s done, friendless save for Owen, Toby struggles through young adulthood and into his thirties, when he finally meets a nice, normal girl. Unfortunately, Toby now does a Very Stupid Thing, and has to learn to live with that, too. Eventually, as the years continue to roll by, we’re able to hope that perhaps things might work out for Toby—he marries, has children, has a somewhat decent life, and manages to keep his friendship with Owen a secret until well into his fifties. Things are going so well, in fact, that he finally reveals his secret to his nearest and dearest, and revealing it—in the end—costs him everything, including Owen.

I’ll leave the lurid (and sometimes surprisingly amusing) details to future readers to discover, but I will say that reading DWELLER was like watching a good horror movie: not only were there at least three—no, four—moments when I wanted to shade my eyes with my hands and scream, “No, don’t do it!”, and I knew the ending wasn’t going to be pretty, I couldn’t look away or stop reading. There were deeper themes at work here than just your average horror novel; themes like friendship and loyalty and man’s own inhumanity to man. And just like in some good old-fashioned horror movies, I ended up wondering, in the end, just who the REAL monster was: man, or the beast.


Sharon said...

oooh, sounds like a good one. I will check it out. Also sounds like it would make a good movie. Maybe M. Night Sham....(you know who I mean ).

Indigo said...

You and I have the same taste in books. I'm so looking this one up. (Hugs)Indigo

Sharon said...

I read it. Wow, kind of disturbing. The whole who is the real monster question. Made me laugh and feel sad. Thanks for the recommendation.

Terri Garey said...

Glad you liked it, Sharon. It's hard to describe how you can laugh, cry, squirm and cover your eyes all within one book, isn't it? Weren't there really just a couple of times when you wanted to shout, "No, don't do it, don't do it!"? :-)

Sharon said...

for some reason the


killing of Toby's son really bothered me. I thought "did he really have to do that!?" then I was like "of course, it is a horror story" and then....well my internal dialog got rather lengthy .

Terri Garey said...

Yes, you


thought Toby's son got away clean after thinking disaster was going to strike, and then disaster DID strike! But that's part of an author's job, isn't it, to catch the reader off guard?

The part about the girlfriend bothered me more. :-) And yet, I kept reading, didn't I? Another indication it was well done.