The premise of Matt Bell's latest novel, Scrapper, is fantastic. This psychological tale of post-fall Detroit centers around a scavenger who guts homes and businesses for scrap metal. In the book's opening chapters, the scavenger, Kelly, finds a boy who has been kidnapped. The rest of the novel focuses largely on Kelly's turmoil regarding his own tragic past and the trauma of the kidnapped boy.
What works extraordinarily well in this novel is the casting of Detroit as a character. Bell paints the city in such a manner that I found myself repeatedly looking up information about Detroit to better understand this city. He handles the city with affection and trepidation. I was scared of Detroit, but I understood why it was to be feared—it had been abused, abandoned, and forgotten. It's Bell's treatment of the setting that makes this city alive.
And yet, while the setting is so detailed, the time was never quite clear to me. Initially, I thought I was reading a story set twenty or thirty years in the future, but the more I read, the less sure I was about when I was. It's okay. Time isn't necessary to enjoy this novel, and perhaps it's better not to know; but I did find myself wondering to the point of distraction.
Scrapper has a wonderful set-up and is certainly written well. As the book proceeds, it does become largely psychological and I think it could've done with more solid story telling to back up what was going on in the mind of Kelly. Nevertheless, I was greatly impressed with Bell's writing and I look forward to reading more of his work in the future.