Illustration by Carly Jean Andrews

Nick Cutter Will Scare the Shit Out of You Like Stephen King Never Did

A conversation with the best literary gore-master working today

Two years ago, my friend Jason was raving about The Troop, a horror novel by an author named Nick Cutter. “It’s fucking sick,” he swore to me. “You’re going to love it.”

Jason and I share an affinity for horror in all its forms — we recently drank rosé and watched Hush (not great) and Unfriended (totally great) back-to-back. Modern horror films aside, Jason’s book recommendations are always on-point. So I downloaded The Troop and started reading it immediately. The premise was simple — a troop of Boy Scouts’ annual camping trip is infiltrated by a man carrying a strain of monstrously lethal parasitic worms. And as Jason promised, it definitely qualified as “sick as fuck”:

A shape materialized from the tangled foliage. Tim inhaled sharply. By the light of an uncommonly bright moon, he beheld a creature fully formed from his blackest childhood nightmares: a rotted monster who’d dragged itself from the sea.

It wasn’t much more than a skeleton lashed by ropes of waterlogged muscle, its flesh falling off its bones in gray, lace-edged rags. It lumbered forward, mumbling dully to itself. Tim’s terror pinned him in place.

The thing shambled through a shaft of moonlight that danced along the tall grass; the light transformed the nightmare into what it truly was: a man so horrifyingly thin it was a miracle he was still alive.

Not to quibble with Cutter’s meaning, but I interpreted it more as a thing than a man. Either way, it wipes out the scout leader and then the scouts one by one. Overall, the experience of reading The Troop reminded me of discovering Stephen King’s books in boarding school. I’d stay up all night reading them, curled up on the dryer in my dorm bathroom with multiple blankets wrapped around me because it felt like the safest place to be. At the same time, The Troop was also deep and meaningful.

Thus began my obsession with Nick Cutter — the pen name for a decidedly more highbrow writer named Craig Davidson. To wit, two of the short stories from his book Rust and Bone were adapted into an Oscar-nominated film starring Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts. Davidson’s other books as himself, The Fighter and Cataract City, have been released to great critical acclaim as well.

While all that praise is deserved, I still can’t shake his work as Nick Cutter. (His latest Cutter book, Little Heaven, is due out in January.) And being that Halloween is almost upon us, it seemed like the perfect time to talk to him about how he makes gore sound so good. What follows is an edited transcript of a conversation we had last week by phone — Davidson lives in and writes from his native Canada. Be forewarned, though: spoilers and fairly graphic descriptions of violence abound.