I got about a quarter of the way into The Troop, steeled by memories of Stephen King’s Christine and other such horrors. But the explosive consequences of releasing a grossly damaged entity into a sparsely populated terrain (Canada’s Prince Edward Island) where a Boy Scout troop and their scoutmaster are camping became too much to endure. And although I couldn’t maintain the direct contact with the story that was seriously creeping me out, I continued to move through the pages, tolerating what I could and moving past what was often to gruesomely literal—an author’s skill managed by only a few, including Cutter. With the disturbing, infinitely calculated sense that reality has been invaded by a force beyond contemporary human experience, Cutter builds his tale through images and memories, the dark secrets and instinctive responses so carefully hidden from others in a civilized society.
Grounded in the reality of their young lives thus far, testosterone-fueled Kent, Max, Ephraim, Newt, and Shelley engage playfully with one another on their final weekend trip with Scoutmaster Tim Riggs. The boys have grown up with one another, from the largest and most aggressive—Kent—to nerdish Newt and oddball Shelley. Adolescents on the cusp of manhood, the boys are a repository of conflicted feelings and unmet yearnings, prompted to snatch the advantages of young manhood. Yet they are still in thrall to the foolishness of childhood, rude jokes and tricks, almost-men hampered by the nascent impulses of infants demanding attention. In a similar vein to the boys in King’s Christine, each character taps into long-buried memories as the first night of the weekends begins. An impending storm brings the threat of isolation, the boys’ activities invaded by the voices of fathers with harsh expectations and the random cruelties visited by family and environment. All of this will come to bear on the behavior of each young man as the nightmare unfolds.
The “other” isn’t a film-birthed monster or comic book creation but a human, his physicality disproportionate due to an experiment gone wrong, something suspiciously governmental. There are ships searching near the island, an attempt to curtail the damage of whatever situation created this abomination, a human driven to terrible, brilliant survival. Like a plague, the diseased, biometrically altered visitor arrives on the island in a stolen boat, body emaciated, driven by a hunger that cannot be satiated. Reduced to sinew, skin, and bones, this man comes in stealth in search of food, his foul presence infecting first the scoutmaster.
A complete gore-fest that will satisfy even the most demanding fan of the genre, the descriptions that repel me may serve instead to thrill others determined to discover the lengths to which this creature will go, the damage sustained by scouts and scoutmaster. The writing is on the wall: mayhem will ensue once the stranger’s malady spreads from one to another: leader to boys, friend to friend, the weak separated from the strong by standards forged in survival. For anyone with the courage to brave the tale, this is a horrifying, fascinating adventure.