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Scrapper, Matt Bell, Soho Press, 2015, 301 pp
This novel consumed me, chewed me up and spat me out. It changed me. A reviewer in the New York Times described it as "equal parts dystopian novel, psychological thriller and literary fiction." I could not say it better, although the dystopian aspect is so close to where we already are and have been in some areas of the world, that it was more like a summary of the kinds of places you would tell your kids or loved ones to avoid.
Set in Detroit, a city I have been in or around for most of my life, deep in the ruins of the automobile industry there, it features a legendary type of hero/fallen man named Kelly. He is a "scrapper," someone who scavenges scrap metal from the deserted factories and homes in the black hole section of modern Detroit and sells it for cash. He also fits the original meaning of the word: a fighter, a pugilist. Kelly's abusive father was a wrestling coach who taught him the ways of pugilism in his formative years. This rejected but absorbed aggressive stance has brought him trouble and a load of guilt.
So when he meets a chronically ill woman with a limp and when he rescues a kidnapped boy, all his demons and sorrow coalesce into a desperate determination to make some things right.
Not a pretty story but dark, gritty and violent, yet filled with meanings, with understandings, about love, self-defense, duty, vengeance and atonement. Somehow Matt Bell takes this microcosm of all that is wrong in the world and makes it hauntingly beautiful.
I truly do not know how he did that. Scrapper is part of the story of civilization as it appears to us now. The ways that progress/greed and power/oppression and hopes/losses work in life, in society, in politics and government and wars. Also the ways that whatever divine spark lives in any human being can bring about transformation even in the midst of violence and decay.
Thanks again to the Nervous Breakdown Book Club for sending to my mailbox a book I otherwise may have missed. I would say that if you feel frightened by the world the way it is today, this novel could give you courage.
(Scrapper is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)