Publisher: Dark House Press. October 11, 2016.
Genre: Literary?? Supernatural mystery??
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Martin Blaskett moves to a small town to oversee construction of a housing development, where he encounters a shape-shifting figure from local legend—Scratch. He is taken under the wing of his new neighbor, a retired hunting guide named Gil Rose, and befriends a local woman named Alison. Along the way, trouble ensues as Scratch feels threatened by changes to the landscape, luring locals out into the woods, including Alison’s son. As the blame for a range of events falls at Martin’s feet, he is beset by increasingly inhuman dreams, and comes to doubt his own innocence. A literary novel of wilderness noir that engages the supernatural elements of folklore in the manner of magical realism, Scratch explores the overlapping layers of history, ecology, and storytelling that make up a place. -Goodreads
Scratch had just about everything I want in a book. A forest with more going on in it than we know? Check. Mysterious disappearances? Check. Weird animal stuff? Check. A formless shapeshifting narrator who puts our main character in harm's way for the sake of the story he wants to create? Ok, maybe I didn't explicitly want that, but I got it. Scratch's concept is pretty brilliant. A shapeshifter (named Scratch) has lived in a forest in the middle of nowhere since...forever, basically. At first he didn't have a form at all, but then he tried turning himself into animals to live like them and, hey, it worked! Scratch is both a protector and a mischief maker, and we get the opportunity to hear this story from his point of view. This novel gives a whole lot of credit to animals, nature, and dreams, which I love.
"We found something," she says. "In the first hole."
"Bones, Mr. Blaskett. We just started digging, and the ground's full of bones."
Martin, the main character, is a hapless man who doesn't have a lot going on in his life apart from his house constructing/real estate career. He decides to build a collection of homes in a very small town and in the back of his head he has the idea that he will move there and get away from the city too. He interacts with very few people other than Gil, the hunter across the road who is a delight, and Alison, the woman he's hired to oversee the construction of the houses. One day, he follows a fox into the forest and he can't seem to stop himself. He gets horribly lost and ends up sleeping in the woods, only to be awoken by a bear attacking him. That's where it all begins. The animals acting strangely, the surreal dreams Martin has about the wild, and people in the town beginning to disappear. Martin is somehow connected to all of it, and of course Scratch, the local legend, has something to do with it.
This book is only very slightly creepy. It was slow going at some points, and we spend perhaps too much time in Martin's head thinking about his past (living with a neglectful single mother) and the borderline stereotypical issues that past brings up. I wouldn't have minded had the book gotten a little bit weirder than it did, but that's obviously just a personal preference. I really enjoyed the concept and the idea of the ending, but it lacked a little in execution and consequence. There was nothing bad about this book, but the plot could have packed a little more of a punch for where the characters all end up.
I didn't begin as one of your own who was cursed--I was in these woods without form before the first warm-blooded body appeared. I was here before your kind arrived, before any kind arrived, because you needed me here to become what you are. You needed a reason to raise up the walls you hoped would keep me out, and to invent the electric lights and alarms that allow you to sleep through the night. Without me to spur your inventions, what would your kind have become? What would your languages be without the need to give your fear names?