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Novelist Nick Cutter to read in Parry Sound with The International Festival of Authors on 6 November.

Review by IFOA Parry Sound Committee member Stevan McCallum

The International Festival of Authors returns to Parry Sound this fall for the 7th year. In 2008 the touring program of the IFOA was an experiment, it is now an event that readers eagerly look forward to attending each year.

 This fall, on Thursday 6 November at 7:30 pm we will present readings by Michael Crummey, Craig Davidson (writing as Nick Cutter), Catherine Graham and Helen Humphreys.

 Nick Cutter will read from his most recent novel The Troop.

 When fanning through the pages of a novel, prior to reading it, there is little more intriguing than catching a glimpse of a page filled with something out of the ordinary. Scan through the pages of a Dan Brown novel to find images and icons that entice you to start reading to discover their meaning. Or, flip through Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five to find a full-page, hand-sketched tomb, “Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt”. Surely little more can motivate readers to begin the novel in search of an explanation for its presence. (Frankly it isn’t explained by reading the novel, nor is the other sketch’s presence: “Please leave this latrine as tidy as you found it!”)

 And so, flipping through Nick Cutter’s novel The Troop, one will be equally intrigued by the interruption of the expected prose with interviews, diaries, police reports, evidence logs, CNN news reports, and advertisements for weight loss pills. Unlike Vonnegut, however, the inclusion of the seemingly extraneous material is clearly part of the narrative: it explains, complicates, foreshadows and, occasionally, provides comic relief.

 The premise of The Troop is simple: a local doctor, also a Scoutmaster, takes a group of boys for a weekend away Falstaff Island, just off the coast from their local town on PEI. Their story quickly intersects with that of a man whose insatiable appetite--caused by a man-made pathogen--not only eats a restaurant out of eggs, but also has the stranger eating the restaurant’s napkins right out of the dispenser. And, predictably, it gets worse.

 While the story is one of horror, Cutter certainly keeps a sense of humour, albeit a dark one, throughout. The novel’s epigraphs, from Lord of the Flies and Dr. Seuss, reveal from where Cutter’s story draws its tone. Nevertheless, ‘The Troop’ isn’t a far departure from the author’s other works in style. “Nick Cutter” is a pseudonym of writer Craig Davidson. Davidson’s Cataract City, shortlisted for the 2013 Giller prize, was described by Quill & Quire’s James Grainger as “unabashedly masculine” and “willing to freely borrow from such diverse genres as detective fiction, dark fantasy, and horror”. Davidson, as Cutter, follows this tradition. Readers can expect to find a horror worthy of a Boy Scout campfire, and allusions from the unabashedly masculine world of science-fiction; for example, Scoutmaster Tim’s inner dialogue is one-half HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

 One of the entertaining parts of Cutter’s writing is his outrageous similes. To describe the movement of a worm: “it sucked itself back into the incision like a strand of spaghetti going into a greedy child’s mouth.” A sick man’s breath: “The stench coming out of the man’s mouth was like a basket of peaches rotting in the sun.” The sound of thought: “But the primal and instinctive part of him, the part ruled by the lizard brain, issued only a mindless buzz like a hive of Africanized bees.”

 What shall be interesting is to hear where Cutter’s inspiration for this story came. When he arrives in Parry Sound on November 6 for the International Festival of Authors to read from The Troop, he may find an audience who is interested in hearing the origins of similes such as “It picked up million-dollar yachts owned by rich American cottagers and flung them about like a child tossing his toys during a playroom tantrum”.

 

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