CriminOlly thinks: Killer animals have rarely been this dull 2/5
Feral by Berton Roueché is book that feels like it was published in the wrong decade. Released in 1974 it went up against James Herbert’s The Rats and Stephen King’s Carrie, two books that redefined the horror genre and set the tone for years to come. Whereas King and Herbert were angry young men with a desire to shake things up, Roueché was in his 60s and Feral looks back (to Du Maurier’s The Birds) rather than forward.
The plot is straightforward and unfold slooooowwwwllllly. The narrator and his family travel from the city to their holiday home on Long Island. There they find a stray kitten which they adopt and then abandon when they leave at the end of the summer. When they next visit a pack of feral cats has established itself in the local woods and is starting to attack local wildlife.
What the book has going for it is a sense of credibility. Until the end at least it all kind of makes sense. Some city folk probably do adopt and then dump cats at their holiday homes. Those cats probably do turn feral. Whether they ever do it on the scale seen in this book is questionable, but certainly many areas that rely on the seasonal holiday trade do struggle with stray animals.
There are really two problems with the book. Firstly, in striving for realism, Roueché turns in a book which is frankly kind of dull. The events do ramp up as the story unfolds, but there’s a definite lack of tension, drama and gore. Secondly, cats (even en masse) really aren’t that scary. Part of the reason Herbert’s The Rats works as well as it does, is because humans are instinctively wary of and disgusted by rats. The exact opposite is true of felines.
That combination is fatal for a book that claims to be a work of horror and as a result Feral is a tame and thoroughly missable entry in the killer animal sub genre.
Title: Feral (aka The Cats) | Author: Berton Roueché | Publisher: Pocket Books | Pages: 126 | Publication date: 1st October 1974 | ISBN: 9780671801526 | Source: Purchased
This splendidly horrific yarn opens with a couple returning to New York after a holiday on Long Island, during which they had acquired a kitten. They cannot keep the kitten in the city and so dump it, hoping it will find a new home. Berton Roueché has always based his stories on fact–and it is not difficult to imagine that the prevalent practice of dumping unwanted domestic pets in rural areas could lead to the gripping and sinister situation that is the thrust of this compulsive story.
For the cats have developed into a rapacious community of their own, and begin to plague this couple when they return to the Long Island village of Amagansett. At first the cats just seem to prowl. Then they begin attacking – rats, birds. Soon large game – deer, dogs – begin to feel their madness. Then they become cannibals, killing and eating each other. In the shattering climax to this novel there is only one animal left to feel their wrath – man himself.
Content Warnings: Animal cruelty
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