Book Review: Scratch by Steve Himmer

Steve Himmer has crafted a little book with a great big wallop of a gut-punch that will leave you breathless and longing for more, much, much more.

Neo-noir is a subgenre that’s been growing in both production and popularity in recent years, but it’s really still in its fledgling state and if you ask seven different people what it is, you’re likely to receive a like number of conflicting answers. So let’s suffice it to say that, however you define it, author Steve Himmer’s newest novel, Scratch, fits well into most definitions of the genre with its mashup of horror, fantasy, magic realism, and literary fiction. When Editor-In-Chief Richard Thomas curates a story you can always count on it being something different, a thing that’s strange and wonderful. He has an eye for the sublime and a knack for sniffing out special works by important authors. And that’s exactly what he’s done here. In Scratch, Steve Himmer has written a story of such incomparable originality, both in content and style, that you might find yourself a bit awestruck by the time you read the last page.

As the story begins we find Martin Blaskett standing in the doorway of his trailer, surveying the clearing in the woods where he plans to build his housing development. He’s preparing to take a fateful walk in the forest, a hike that will change the course and the shape of his life in terrifying and wondrous ways. Steve Himmer crafts this character with remarkable attention to detail, developing a person with a pure and real personality that you fall in love with almost immediately. Martin is in many ways a lost soul, a man looking for a space to fill, a place to belong and he believes he may find it in this hole he’s cut in the forest. But nothing in this place is exactly as it seems, not even Martin though he doesn’t know it yet. Scratch, the enigmatic narrator who spends the duration of the tale in a coyote’s body, has carefully laid plans for him, designs he’s orchestrated as precisely as Martin has the blueprints for his little neighborhood in the middle of this ancient wilderness.

In Scratch, Steve Himmer, author of The Bee-Loud Glade and Fram, has created a modern day fairy tale that can be described as nothing less than magical, an urban fantasy set in a rural location and peppered with a cast of delightfully quirky characters and surreal, wonderful settings that are comparable to nothing that’s been penned before. Himmer has a mesmerizing authorial voice that draws you into the story and captivates you, making this two-hundred page book a one sitting read as you find yourself lost among the magic delights and chilling terrors of his imagination.

While Scratch is definitely horror, it’s also so much more than that. Steve Himmer pushes the borders of literature carving new paths we’ve yet to travel down and leading us along them with the skill of a master guide and the euphoric elation of a five year old on a new adventure. And what an adventure it is. The narrative is unique and bold as both narrator and reader spend the entire story in the bodies of coyotes and while you’re certainly wondering what that means, you’ll have to read the story to find out for yourself. Suffice it to say that Himmer took a risk with his approach and it works marvelously.

The protagonist in Scratch is a kind and sympathetic character that’s easy to love and Gil, his grizzled old neighbor and a veteran of a war that’s never named, plays perfect counterpoint, bringing the mystery to the story as Martin begins to realize that Gil and the people of the nearby town harbor a terrible secret that they’re at first stubbornly unwilling to share with an outsider, as is the way with all small towns folk. But as the story unfolds, Martin begins to learn of Scratch, a local legend that has been around as long as the town has, a being that is often blamed for anything that can’t be explained any other way.

We learn right from the start that Scratch is no legend, but it’s difficult to say exactly what it is. A shape-shifter? Sort of, but not really. Maybe a ghost? Again, you could define it as such but you’d only be scratching the surface. It’s a consciousness, an ancient entity that seems to be one with the animals of the forest, able to actually become them if it chooses and to live it’s life and experience the world through their senses. In the end, Scratch is ultimately a major enigma as you find yourself wondering exactly why this is all taking place, what motivates it to do the things it does and what has sparked it’s interest in Marty. But this isn’t a bad thing. It serves to add to the overall sense of wonder and awe that you’re likely to experience reading this marvelous book that should be a huge breakout of a novel for Steve Himmer.

Scratch is a gathering of sights and sounds and smells, rife with joy, pain, and horror in equal measure that will leave you moonstruck and dazed. Steve Himmer has crafted a little book with a great big wallop of a gut-punch that will leave you breathless and longing for more, much, much more.


Publisher: Dark House Press
Paperback: (210pp)
Release Date: 19 September 2016

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