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Dweller / Jeff Strand

Leisure Books / April 2010
Reviewed by: I.E. Lester

Dweller is one of the strangest coming-of-age tales featuring one of the most unusual friendships you’re likely to ever read, and one that could easily earn the tagline: The touching story of one boy and his monster.

In 1953, eight-year-old Toby Floren has his first meeting with a yeti-like humanoid creature in the woods near his house. He's initially terrified of it. But as he ages into a loner teenager he continues to encounter the creature — which is in as much need of a friend as Toby.

Toby and Owen (the newly christened monster) develop an unconventional friendship (to say the least), one that proves to be surprisingly enduring — even getting over the occasional "Oops, did I just eat your friends?" moment.

Although the tone of Dweller isn’t quite as flippant as this short synopsis might suggest, the book does struggle at times to find its identity. It’s a book the reader would like to fall into one camp or another – all-out gorefest or sensitive coming-of-age tale – but it ultimately fails to fully deliver on either. When Owen plays it nasty monster-style, it's all too brief and the ramifications of the violence feel inconsequential. On the flipside, Strand only flirts with the Harry and the Hendersons-style relationship between boy and monster so the story never fully develops into a comedic piece either.

But for its intermittent identity crisis, Dweller is not a book without virtue. Floren is a very well written character — the archetypal underachiever who excels in a menial job; a loner who escapes to play with his not-so-imaginary friend rather than make connections in the real world.

As with Strand's earlier Leisure novel Pressure, Dweller is told in episodes spread across decades. Each section highlights just enough to illustrate how the friendship between Toby and Owen evolves as one of near equals, rather than the boy and his pet dog equivalent that one might expect.

But Dweller is ultimately a sad story, and Strand takes full control of the reader's emotions. From the beginning, it's clear this is going to be a doomed friendship, and Strand makes you feel for both parties — even the human-eating monster. Toby and Owen are both desperately lonely souls, eager for companionship. There are some real emotional highs in Dweller — the initial moment of understanding when Toby feeds Owen and realizes he's not in danger of being eaten and their developing a sign language method of communication.

Although the reader is left with the feeling that Dweller could have soared to greater heights at times, there's a good deal to like within its pages. One thing is for certain: you’re not likely to read something quite like it again.

Purchase Dweller by Jeff Strand.

Posted on Saturday, May 15, 2010 at 01:12PM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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