Epeolatry Book Review: In The Scrape By James Newman & Mark Steensland
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Title: In the Scrape
Authors: James Newman & Mark Steensland
Publisher: Cemetery Dance Publications
Genre: Coming of Age
Release Date: January, 21st, 2023
Synopsis: Note: This is a re-release of ‘In the Scrape‘ from a new publisher. Be sure to also check out our original review for quite a different view of the release!
Most kids dream about a new bike, a pair of top-dollar sneakers endorsed by their favorite athlete, or that totally awesome videogame everyone’s raving about. But thirteen-year-old Jake and his little brother Matthew want nothing more than to escape from their abusive father. As soon as possible, they plan to run away to California, where they will reunite with their mother and live happily ever after.
It won’t be easy, though. After a scuffle with a local bully puts Jake’s arch-nemesis in the hospital, Sheriff Theresa McLelland starts poking her nose into their feud. During a trip to the family cabin for the opening weekend of deer-hunting season, Jake and Matthew kick their plan into action, leaving Dad tied to a chair as they flee into the night. Meanwhile, the bully and his father have their own plans for revenge, and the events to follow will forever change the lives of everyone involved . . .
Coming of age stories are as much a part of the horror genre as the camp slasher or suburban boogeyman. The dynamic is often different, but the base is always the same; kids must grow up to survive. In The Scape is no different.
Introducing the dynamic—a brother team who only have each other as they fight to escape their father. The bond between Jake and Matthew is heartwarming. The relationship and interactions between the brothers are the best part of the story, in my opinion. The dialog feels true and realistic.
The reader is introduced to the boys’ father, an overbearing drunk of a man. He’s abusive and is often depicted while using his power over his boys. He’s also manipulative, an attribute that he will use several times to try and win Matthews over from Jake. While there is a certain generation that might see the father as an all-too-common figure, let me assure you, that when this man shows his true colors, he is a monster.
The reader follows Jake as he sets into motion the plan to escape their life and find their mother. Jake’s methods for obtaining money and procuring the necessary items to kick off their plan is at the forefront of the story. As the trio reaches the family cabin for a weekend hunting trip, the plan is set in motion and all hell breaks loose.
Unfortunately, while the story is solid, the structure leaves a lot to be desired.
First, the story is broken up into two parts. The first part is roughly 70% of the story with the second part being the other 30%. If there was a logical break in the two parts, such as part one leading up to the hunting trip and part two being the hunting trip, the average reader would understand. However, the second part comes well after the story begins toward the climax, as the escape plan is already set in motion. The only indicator as to why comes from a brief blurb at the beginning of part two discussing how some of the upcoming events were not witnessed by the narrator.
Second, disclosure of when this story is told comes pretty late. The reader finds out roughly halfway through the story that the narrator is recounting the events years afterward. This isn’t cleared up until the end of the story, which, by then, only stands to make the reader say, “oh, that makes sense”. This understanding Part Two’s beginning blurb unnecessary. Wouldn’t it make sense for the narrator to have knowledge of the events years later?
Third, the number of characters in the story is high. This isn’t a long story, so many of the characters make a brief appearance and have little or no impact on the plot, and are never seen again. For this type of story, the narrator could give some insight into these characters’ lives. For instance, the old lady who scolds Jake in church—her backstory could make the reader sympathetic to her situation. Regarding the character known as “Round Man”—the reader is given insight to his future event, but it’s unnecessary and doesn’t move the plot forward. Even the mother is never expanded upon within the MC’s memory. It seems out of place to have a story where two children are fighting to get to their mother without ever establishing why she is the better parent.
Lastly, the chapters. The story utilizes chapter breaks very well in part one. Then, near the middle of the story, chapter breaks are turned into whole new chapters. It’s rare to see a chapters that are only half a page long. When this tactic is used, it’s often for an impactful event that might require reflection on the reader’s part. When multiple chapters are only half pages long, it feels like the reading equivalent of speed bumps.
In The Scape is a tale of brothers working together to gain their freedom. The relationship development between Jake and Matthew is wonderful. The development of a horrible villain like the father is classic. But while the arch of the story is well thought out, execution is lacking.
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Joseph Pietris is a member of the United States Coast Guard by day and heavily involved in the horror community by night. His work has appeared in several anthologies. When not writing, he’s produced reviews and interviews preferring those works generally lost in the cracks. As an associate editor, Joseph has weeding through the submission piles of horror podcasts.
Joseph’s work can be found at Amazon.com: Joseph P. Pietris: books, biography, latest update