I guess it’s popular to believe that there are 2 Jeff Strands: the older guy, who’s been writing outrageous comic horror tales like The Sinister Mr. Corpse and those collected in Gleefully Macabre Tales, and the younger dude who wrote the superb psycho thriller Pressure, which was nominated for a Bram Stoker award. In truth, they’re the same person, and DWELLER –his second mass market paperback from Leisure Books, which will also be published as a Limited Edition hardcover from Dark Regions Press – sort of proves the point, as it contains the humor of the former and the pathos of the later.
Dweller is the story of best friends Toby and Owen. Theirs isn’t an ordinary friendship, as Owen is a Bigfoot-like creature Toby encounters in the woods one day. Both are outcasts: Owen is apparently the sole survivor of an attack on his kind, and Toby is a misfit tormented by school yard bullies. They become linked after a mishap involving a great deal of blood and violence, and remain friends over the decades that follow, sort of like E.T. meets TROG meets SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR meets THE SUNSHINE BOYS.
Of the two characters, Toby is the more troubled, probably because humans suffer from guilt and animals don’t. Toby could have been best friends with WILLARD or Brian from BRAIN DAMAGE; like them, he develops a bond with his pet monster, then a sense of empowerment, and then grief when he realizes he’s crossed a line. The difference is, Toby doesn’t view Owen as a pet or a monster, but as his best friend. Sometimes they fight, sometimes they kill, sometimes they read comic books and eat ice cream.
Owen is big, furry and loyal – and he’s great at disposing of bodies. He’s the more stable character, if only because once he develops a moral compass he tries to follow it. Too bad for him that Toby is such a fuckup, and you know how friends like that can drag you down. But friends stick together, don’t they?
Dweller starts out as A Boy and His Monster, evolves into A Man and His Monster, and wraps up as The Old Man and the Monster. It’s clearly aimed at people like me who love monsters, but the author also has fun playing with his structure. I particularly enjoyed the sections which cover the passage of time, often with a single sentence or line of dialogue. Strand’s humor is intact, and yet the novel contains at least one scene as startling and brutal as Pressure’s big surprise, and the tale reaches a conclusion that will leave only cold hearted bastards dry eyed. There's plenty of conflict, twists and dismemberments on hand to please horror fans. Call it a monster novel with heart. Highly recommended!
Dweller should start hitting bookstores next week.