August 26, 2013

Creeps

by Darren Hynes
Razorbill/Penguin Canada
978-0-14-318714-1
309 pp.
Age 13 +
August, 2013

Just to be clear:  Creeps is not a creepy book.  It may be unsettling for some readers by the horror of the protagonist's reality but it is neither supernatural nor blood-curdling.  In fact, Creeps is the descriptor that 15-year-old Marjorie Pope uses for herself and the protagonist of the story, Wayne Pumphrey, also 15.  And perhaps being a little different in Canning, Labrador is all it takes to feel like a creep there.

There's obviously something about Wayne that makes him the target of Pete "The Meat" Avery and his posse–Kenny, Bobby and Harvey–who relentlessly abuse him physically and verbally.  In the written but unsent letters he records in a journal, Wayne gives voice to the questions, fears, confusion that he refuses to express to Pete, his parents, his older sister Wanda, and others.  In fact, that's how Wayne becomes better acquainted with Marjorie Pope, a girl who wears her poverty without shame and ignores the sexual rumours Pete doles out about her.  When she witnesses one of Pete's attacks on Wayne, she distracts The Meat with comments about his biological father and early childhood with which he has issues.

In Wayne's efforts to belong to something, anything to help get through high school, he auditions for the school's production.  Although he doesn't earn a role, Mr. Rollie, the drama teacher, sees some leadership potential and asks him to be his assistant director.  Dealing with his dad's alcoholism, his mother's constant threat to leave because of her husband's drinking, and Pete The Meat's abuse, Wayne recognizes that
"...I'll take the job anyway because it's good to have somewhere to go and something to do and someone other than the wall to look at and say stuff to." (pg. 59)
Marjorie, on the other hand, wins the lead role in the play, mesmerizing everyone with the emotional depth of her performance.  However, she's probably just as happy to have someplace else to go, away from her mother whose husband's death has unhinged her, even believing that Marjorie feels no grief over her father's passing.

The threat of leaving Canning for elsewhere, anywhere, is a common theme amongst Creeps characters, and often distracts Wayne from his worries of Pete The Meat but not always.  This is especially true after Dad insists on confronting Pete's parents about their son's abuse of Wayne and causes the assaults to escalate.

While Wayne may believe that his reluctance to stand up for himself is because
"...sometimes I don't feel like I'm worth very much..." (pg. 226)
he is the only one who doesn't seem to consider running away.  There's Dad who leaves the daily grind of working in the mine by indulging in drink.  His mother wants to run away in reaction to his drinking.  Wanda is planning on taking off for Toronto with a friend.  Marjorie often thinks of escaping her mother's bizarre behaviour and reactions.  But, even with the psychological and physical degradation that Wayne experiences, he is more likely to contemplate the why's and how's rather than react, ultimately helping him to understand others better.

I truly hope that the anguishing circumstances that Darren Hynes so evocatively portrays in Creeps are not the norm of small towns in more remote areas such as Labrador and not the high school years that the author experienced.  No one, young or old, creep or not, should ever endure the humiliation too easily sketched by Darren Hynes' harsh word choice and graphic imagery.  Creeps may adhere to the old adage that "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger"–as happens for Wayne and Marjorie, thankfully–but be prepared for the wretchedness of anticipating the worst for the characters while still knowing that some degree of deliverance is forthcoming.

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