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In The Scrape James Newman Mark Steensland Main

"In the Scrape" Book Review

Written by Tony Jones

Published by Silver Shamrock Publishing

In The Scrape James Newman Mark Steensland Large

Written by James Newman & Mark Steensland
2019, 108 pages, Fiction
Released on 1st July 2019

Review:

I often pick up books which have reviewed positively by others in the horror community and am delighted to agree 1100% with the buzz generated by the excellent In the Scrape, co-authored by James Newman and Mark Steensland. Such is the natural eb and flow of the story, I have no idea where the contribution of one author begins and the other ends.  Coming in at a lean 108 pages, I devoured this novella over a solitary evening and almost a single sitting. This deceptively simple but emotionally powerful story details the struggles of two brothers who are abused physically, verbally, and mentally by their broken-down father. This type of very realistic human horror is built upon the atrocities that we inflict upon each other, often in the name of love and on those closest to them. It makes compulsive reading.

In the Scrape is narrated in the first person by thirteen-year-old Jake, who is reflecting back upon a particularly difficult and traumatic period of his childhood. In the early stages it is not exactly clear how old he is when looking back, but Jake is almost certainly an adult, and the six days the story focuses upon is clearly a pivotal and tragic moment in his life. Jake spends much of the time watching out, defending, and caring for his nine-year-old brother Matthew. Due to the volatile temper, and probable alcoholism, of their unpredictable father, Jake is very protective of his little brother and would rather take a savage double-beating than see his father turn his belt on Matthew. Probably due to emotional problems, the little boy still sucks his thumb and is repeatedly taunted by his father, such is their tempestuous relationship. The dynamics between the two brothers is exceptionally convincing and is the backbone of a story which is built upon the fractured dynamics of the Bradersen family.

Kurt Bradersen is an ogre of a man and is vividly drawn by the authors. He is by no means a caricature of the stereotypical small-town drunk. Like many alcoholics, he is a contradiction who can, on occasions, be very tender to his sons, but most of the time is just plain mean. He is particularly dangerous when he is on the bottle, which is frequently, and his boys instinctively know how to read the telltale signs of what mood he is in. In the Scrape nails the alcoholic aspect of the story perfectly; they know when to walk on eggshells around their father, but even when he is in good form can snap without a moment’s notice. For example: one evening he takes them to a diner for burgers and due to a minor disagreement over tomatoes, cancels the whole meal, takes them home and forces them to eat cornflakes as an alternative to dinner. Bradersen is an angry and unpleasant drunk and this oozes from the pages.

In the early stages of the story, it is revealed that, instigated by Jake, the boys intend to run away to California where they believe their mother lives. When drunk (and sober),  their father taunts them with the fact that their mother abandoned them five years earlier and probably has a new family in California. He makes it clear she did not want them and enjoys rubbing it in.  Heartbreakingly, little Matthew barely remembers his mother and holds onto a huge red ball, as this was the last present he knows she gave him. They have very few things to remember their mother by, except for a few old Polaroid photos. Jake has been sneaking (and stealing) money to use for the bus to California and when the story begins they are in the later stages of their plan to escape.

Such is the skill of the writing, this is not a straightforward coming-of-age story and it is also relatively easy to see things from the point of view of the father, with the final outcome shrouded until well into proceedings. Many men wasted on alcohol do what Braderson does and relive a failed relationship by listening to the same song over and over again. There is a powerful scene when Jake tiptoes into the living room to switch the blaring music off with the father passed out wasted. It is clear these are children who grew up much faster than they needed to, a fact which is reflected in the narration and the melancholic mood of the adult Jake reflecting back, a tone seamlessly threaded into the story.

In the Scrape has several other plot crucial strands, including a feud with another local family, who Bradersen violently calls out after recurring bullying incidents. This expansion of the story beyond the immediate family dynamics works exceptionally well, showing how Bradersen interacts with others, including the police and teachers. There is an albino deer on the cover of the novella and on some level this signifies hope, or possibly escape, playing a key factor in the clever change of direction the second half of the story takes, where the narration deviates from the first person.

At the moment the world of dark fiction is blessed with a new golden age of high-quality novellas and In the Scrape is another fine addition which deserves to be widely read beyond the horror community, and could find an audience with thriller fans. It does not particularly break any new literary ground, nor does it have to; the small personal story of Jake and Matthew is enough and is ultimately a tale of compassion and survival which deserves to be heard. Even though this is dark subject matter with many of the boy’s brighter moments and aspirations being extinguished by their brutal father, it is not without hope. It also shows that the reality for many children is the true monsters are very close to home and not in the cinemas or under the bed.  Highly recommended.

Grades:

Overall: Fourstars In The Scrape James Newman Mark Steensland Small
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In The Scrape James Newman Mark Steensland Small
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About The Author
Tony Staff
Author: Tony Jones
Staff Writer
Such is Tony’s love of books, he has spent well over twenty years working as a school librarian where he is paid to talk to kids about horror. He is a Scotsman in exile who has lived in London for over two decades and credits discovering SE Hinton and Robert Cormier as a 13-year-old for his huge appetite for books. Tony previously spent five years writing The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was, a history book very few people bought. In the past he has written for Horror Novel Reviews and is a regular contributor to The Ginger Nuts of Horror website, often specialising in YA horror.
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