The town of Gower, Colorado used to be something back in the day. Not as big a deal as Aspen or Breckenridge as far as ski resort towns go, but sure as shit nothing to sneeze at nonetheless. In the time of Scott Phillips’ new novel Rut, roughly midway through our current century, the place is barely hanging on. The few townsfolk remaining are “off the Big Grid,” living off the meager subsidies handed out by the town’s corrupt mayor, the rare shipment of goods coming via truck from TarMart (you can put that one together yourself, I suspect) bringing a turnout that rivals the Fourth of July festivities. Gower’s inhabitants are poor, ill-informed and often grotesque-looking from exposure to toxic waste and unbelievably old thanks to “regeneration” procedures. Into this tightly-knit clan comes young post-doctorate student Bridget McCallum, a herpetologist researching frogs in the area for the brief summer before the extremely harsh winter smothers the little hamlet. She serves as our outsider guide to this strange land, her interactions with the locals letting us in on the long-buried secrets and tricky relationships that make the town of Gower a fucking fascinating place to visit.
Scott Phillips is hands-down one of the most original authors working today and Rut, a wild-ass post-apoc novel like nothing you’ve ever read, may be a departure for him premise-wise, but it’s also instantly recognizable to fans of his beautifully sly brand of storytelling. Known up until now as the author of three awesome, loosely-related historical crime novels set in and near Wichita, Phillips’ futuristic setting may surprise his readers, but his prose style, inventively profane dialogue (you know the Nerd appreciates that shit), colorful cast, and gift for refreshingly unrushed, character-based plotting shines through like the fucking Bat Signal on a cloudy Gotham night on every page.
For the Nerd, one of the many joys of a Phillips novel is that sense you get while reading that you have no fucking idea where the story is going but, thanks to the great characters and subtle hints dropped along the way, the journey is so rich you could give a shit (like I said, that’s the fun of it). He’s an author that requires a lot of faith from your average crime reader, but he’s yet to let this reader down yet in the fucking slightest. The Nerd doesn’t want to give away too much about the rules of this world or regarding the direction the story heads because cracking that shit open, laying back and letting it happen is truly the best approach to any Phillips novel. If “it’s a Scott Fucking Phillips novel” is not enough to get you behind this shit, let the Nerd attempt to describe the novel thusly:
If you took the tender portrait of a town in decline in Richard Russo’s Empire Falls, mixed it with Kurt Vonnegut at his most satirical and biting, then sprinkled in a few grams of meth and a generous shot of piss from a syphilitic hobo into the resulting solution, you’d have a drink that could almost put you on your ass as fast as Rut sure-as-shit will.
Before the Nerd wraps this shit up, let me hip you to the fact that Rut is a free (!) novel available now from Concord Free Press, the experimental publishing house lead by editor-in-chief Stona Fitch. To get a copy, go to www.concordfreepress.com and get yourself some of that shit while supplies last. All they want from you is a promise to donate to a person or charity in any amount you see fit. You ask the Nerd, that’s a fucking tiny-ass price to pay for something as ridiculously kick-fucking-ass as Scott Phillips’ Rut.