Book Review: "Scapegoat" by Adam Howe and James Newman (2018)
Tell me if you bibliophiles can relate to this joy: you find a new author that just tickles your proverbial pickle like a much needed handjob from the school whore when you just have to get rid of a case of blueballs. The satisfaction is nearly unparalleled, the release both sublime and a little earth shattering.
While my description is more than a little off-color, it’s definitely appropriate for the duo of Adam Howe and James Newman. As a matter of fact, I’m trying to be objective because there’s so much about this book that makes me the target demographic. It’s a bit like opening that Christmas present that is just so perfectly you (even though you didn’t ask for it). No doubt Adam knew this when he asked if I’d like to review “Scapegoat”; the man knows his target audience. I applaud him for it. Knowing your audience is one of the most important aspects of navigating everyday life, let alone trying to have your raw power recognized.
Mission accomplished, motherfucker!
“Scapegoat” is the tale of Mike Rawson, a happily married man with a new kid. It’s the spring of 1987, and Mike’s oldest friends, Lonnie Deveroux and Arthur “Pork Chop” Miller have arrived in Lonnie’s beat-to-shit camper (“She’s a motorhome!”) with an opportunity to drive the Silverdome for Wrestlemania III. Mike can’t pass it up, even if his old garage band buddies are utter fuckups; a weekend of debauchery with the boys is just what he needs. Before long, the truth comes out- Lonnie is bartering his way in with a load of counterfeit merchandise in lieu of actual tickets. A few dozen beers later, they’re utterly lost in the backwoods and stranded (along with stowaway, "Cyndi-from-the-Bar”). Unfortunately, that’s where bad gets much worse when a badly mutilated girl appears, slashed up and covered with the seven deadly sins carved into her naked flesh. Then the religious cult arrives, looking to reclaim their sacrifice that will keep the world from being swallowed up by demons. The combined powers of The Hulkster and the Macho Man can’t save them from what’s next…..
I’ll be damned if I know how a Brit like Howe has managed to be so damn good at encapsulating the lovingly sweaty and hairy underbelly of Americana, but he speaks the language in a way that will blow your mind. The influence of Joe R. Lansdale is strong, shining through in his turn of phrase and ability to have you laughing at the humanity and the absurdity of the situation in the same breath. This book alone has more quotable lines than you could hope to keep track of. Some of them hit a little too close to home for a South Carolina kid that grew into a man who has proudly never outgrown a love of wrestling and horror.
Again….know your audience.
Here’s the thing, though: in the midst of an entire lost town full of religious crazies, beset by undercover FBI and Lovecraftian horror, and trapped by sheer absurdity, there is a heart that cannot be denied. All of us have a buddy like Lonnie Deveroux or Pork Chop. You know the one- your spouse hates ‘em. They always say the wrong thing at the wrong time. They’re crude, lewd, and rude. As you get older you spend more time around them cringing than laughing.
They’re also the truest of friends. It’s not just school-age nostalgia; this is someone who will be there for you at 80 years old just like they were at 18…the kind of friend who will gladly burn everything down with you (or for you) even if it means jail time or worse. People today use the phrase “ride or die”, but that doesn’t do it justice. One of the lessons of “Scapegoat” is that your worst friend is often the best one you have.
Don’t read too much into the religious aspect of the book, either. I suppose you could see it as anti-religion OR pro-religion depending on the twist you want to put on it, but therein lies the beauty: it’ll be your twist. Howe and Newman aren’t advocating for either. I felt like, if anything, they were showing the silliness of the whole affair. Why worry about following the family cult when there’s awesome shit out there to enjoy like wrestling, heavy metal, and booze? Is that just me?
Besides, if the demons really want to come forth you won’t be able to stop them.
On the horror side of things, “Scapegoat” excels in the extreme. You feel every slash, stab, and burn. It’s brutal and physical in the way that good horror should be, and the action is handled with a deft hand (if you don’t know, action is pretty hard to write). When the shit really hits the fan and the end goes from nigh to breathing down your neck you’ll marvel at the attention to every nasty detail that spews forth with eldritch creativity. It’s a wet dream for gorehounds.
On the wrestling side of things, I nitpicked the details. I am a walking encyclopedia of wrestling knowledge, and I’m glad to say that they got it all right with heart. I couldn’t find one thing to throw back and say “you got that wrong!”. It’s all accurate and loving, treating my favorite sport with the passion and respect it deserves.
Howe and Newman have delivered a book that literally an entire generation can get into. “Scapegoat” is wet, slimy, obscene, horrific, and degenerate. It’s also touching, grounded in realism, and a little heartbreaking. Tell me that’s not a hard one to pull off. You’re looking at a style that is its own unique thing, defying simple classification.
Also, “Don’t Go Out Like a Bitch…Go Out With a Bang” is the greatest name ever for a song that never existed. Your argument is invalid.