SCRATCH by Steve Himmer


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In a small New England town, a developer attempting to build a residential community in a forest clearing begins to notice and experience strange happenings in the surrounding woods.

Martin Blaskett, the man at the center of Himmer’s (Fram, 2015, etc.) eerie fable, has abandoned city life for a trailer on his construction site, where he intends to build the sort of “ballgames and barbecues” neighborhood that he’s never lived in himself. (He hopes to settle there, too, and maybe one day start a family.) Things go south quickly, however: Martin gets lost in the woods and a bear attacks him; the town drunk disappears, and when Martin and his neighbor, an old hunter named Gil, go to the man’s house to investigate, it appears an animal has ransacked the place; another key character goes missing. Could all of this have something to do with the shape-shifter the townspeople call Scratch who, according to local legend, roams the woods in various forms and can never die? Himmer’s boldest choice is to make this otherworldly force his narrator. Inhabiting the body of a coyote, Scratch sometimes speaks directly to readers, inviting them at the novel's start to transform into coyotes, too (“you’ll keep up more easily on faster legs than your own”). The writing is magnificently inventive throughout: at one point the shape-shifter offers the entire history of the woods near Martin's land in mere paragraphs. For a novel with so much going on, however, the pacing can, at times, feel slow. Himmer gives too much space to back story and dream sequences, making readers itchy to return to the here and now, and with the exception of the lovingly rendered Gil, none of the characters pop with nearly the force of the unconventional narrator at the novel’s core.

A terrific voice and premise, but ultimately the storyteller outshines the story.

Pub Date: Oct. 11th, 2016
ISBN: 9781940430843
Page count: 200pp
Publisher: Dark House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2016


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