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"How would you rather die," he asks himself, "from a chopping axe or a little blade? A tiny blade . . . only enough to draw a single bead of blood . . . But it doesn't stop cutting. It takes days. . . It doesn't matter how big or strong or resourceful you are: sooner or later that tiny blade will shred right through you. And it's not one blade but a million blades inside you, cutting their way out, replicating themselves, slicing and gashing and mincing you up. . . You'll get to see yourself change. It's that slow progression. You'll see your strength get sapped, see your body take on terrifying new parameters. Your mind will probably snap well before your body caves in. Personally? I'd take the axe."

Dr. Clive "Mengele 2.0" Edgerton, creator of hydatids for Devourer & Conqueror tapeworms, p.252

 

Toward the end of this novel, a 14-year old kid sticks his hand "through a thin membrane of gelatinized blood and into the dead man's abdomen" searching for 2 spark plugs the dead dude ate so the only boat to escape the island won't start. The kid's description"rooting around in a bowl of cold oatmeal . . . [or] mashed bananas"(p.302)reminded me of Halloween as a child, when I had to push through a bowl of "zombie brains"aka warm macaronito get my promised treat.

The only real problem I had with this read was that I'm not 14-years old anymore. But if I were, the year would be 1961(1) and the manuscript of The Troop would be festering in trash dumpsters outside all the active publishing houses. For, you see, what distinguishes this read is the sheer visceral brutality of its descriptions of 5 barely-teen Boy Scouts(2) and their Scoutmaster being hellishly devoured by flesh-eating tapeworms from the inside out. And that's not to mention chewing on twigs and leaves, dirt, even slurping back one's own vomit, 'cause these boys get hungry and go cannibal on each other and themselves. Manwich hungry. Men in gray flannel suits would not have thought this appropriate for young minds.

The plot is SOP, Haunted House variety, but with some interesting variations. Five Scouts and their Master go for a weekend outing on Falstaff Island in the Prince Edward's off the Nova Scotia coast. Barely there, and a stranger shows up in a motor boat. He's really, really sick, and Scoutmaster Tim is an MD, so hands-on treatment ensues. Of course zombie-savvy readers will catch the amateur error right away. "People try so hard to save the people . . . that they end up catching the contagion themselves. . . Love is the absolute killer"(p.253). Natch, the stranger dies disturbingly.

First down is the Scout leader himself. Since he's the only adult in the story, the YA stamp embosses the rest of the read, dragging along its parameters as well. The boys go down not quite like dominos, so the pages keep getting thumbed. As a reader, the success of this novel depends on how well you absorb these five personalities struggling with their inbred stereotypes. The gist is to think in known quantitiesi.e., the Jock, the Nerd, the BFriend, etcthen add those particular attitudes and actions that make personalities unique. There are a couple of exceptions: Ephraim, "a creature of pure momentum, pure chaos"(p.45) proves distant and disappointing, while Shelley has a way of "hiding in a permanent pocket of shadow"(p.61) while fulfilling the role of Creepy Kida cloaked and compliant monsterquite swimmingly.

The book is good beach-read fodder, just not accomplished enough to matter. I think author Cutter missed a wonderful, final chill when he wrapped up his microcosmic zombie apocalypse in neat, successful conclusion. A more eerier notion would be to have Max come back to the mainland and discover the blossoming of a runaway catastrophe to be the death of us all.

I mean, hell, the tapeworm mutations are the main spotlight. Already a timeline into the future has comprimised any Lord of the Flies cuddlings from self-contained, self-reliant storytelling with blarings from the outside world, inserted as police reports, lab journals, investigation testimony, CNN broadcast, and an exploitive GQ Magazine article. Afterall, the Conqueror Worm is an incredible creation for mass, human destruction culminating from our own vanities. It even has real, historical credibility. Weight-loss pill, indeed! By first giving us the reaction of the doomed Scouts as their fellow campers begin to "no longer look like they belong to the species"(p.80), plus adding predictable but unique contortions to the usual torture-terrible deaths in these types of stories, The Troop bellies up to the bar, but its leap of faith doesn't quite clear for the win.

 

Max knew he was at that age where disbelief began to set in. The erosion was constant. Santa Claus had gone first, then the monster in the closet. Soon he'd believe the way his folks did. Rationally.

But for now he still believed enough, and maybe that had kept him sane.

He was idly working all of this over in his mind when the screams started.

p.273

 

And that's why the teaser finale with Maxafter the testing has cleared himand the "nameless hunger was building up inside of him"(p.355), should have stayed a stale turd in author Cutter's pocket.

 

1) FSM at Berkeley was 1964, so this is still mentally the 1950s.

2) Haven't the BSA ruined themselves from the inside (see? symbolism) with out-of-touch policies and attitudes like, for instance, multiple gender attraction? Has further attendance been hampered by the brownshirt-like uniforms and demoded, militaristic organization? I was a Boy Scout. Flaming Arrow patrol. Never made it past Second Class. My sash had no merit badges on it. It was great fun at the time and I learned valuable lessons about being prepared.

© text only © copyright 11/21/2014 by Larry Crawford

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