Saturday, August 6, 2011

Howler

Werewolf novels, good ones anyway, are pretty few and far between. I can think of, let's see. . . Cycle of the Werewolf, by Stephen King. David Wellington's adequate but wanting Frostbite trilogy. (I really shouldn't leave out Toby Barlow's epic poem Sharp Teeth, incredibly beautiful as it is.) Ben Percy's werewolf novel Red Moon is slated for release next fall, and looks promising, based the strength of his past work. But as a whole, people typically have trouble writing about werewolves, or they're written about but tragically misrepresented; I can think of those dubious books about the female werewolf mechanic w/ tattoos. (I've never read them, but they look awful; if I'm wrong, by all means, set me straight,) and werewolves-lite of Twilight. Maybe, as a genre, the werewolf story works best in a visual medium; werewolf movies outnumber novels by surely an impressive ratio, and even SK's Cycle would lose about 50% of its charm/power if one were to toss out Bernie Wrightson's chill-inducing illustrations. Maybe the werewolf concept works best as a metaphor; King as pointed out pretty efficiently that The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is more or less a werewolf story. So is the history of Nazi Germany, the Salem Witch trials, etc. (the werewolf being the symbol of the unleashed, uninhibited beast-within.) Perhaps with such potent examples of vile transformations in human history, most writers feel it is unnecessary to rewrite the tale, so to speak.

For whatever reason, werewolves are somewhat neglected fodder for horror writers. Which is a shame really, as they can be terrifying and tragic all at once, and if that isn't a recipe for drama, I don't know what is. People are perhaps drawn to them for this reason. Lon Chaney was a victim more than a villain, etc. My own fascination with werewolves probably stems from the hand that Fate plays in their appearance on the scene. They seem to simply occur. Out on a foggy moor, or across a shadow-strewn lawn, etc., without apparent design. They're waiting out there, a metaphorical catastrophe when we least expect or are prepared for them. This is sort of the spirit of my own werewolf story (see A horror story, the blog I posted last February, a few posts down.)

Anyway, a new book that creates some interesting new perspectives on werewolves was published a few weeks ago. It's called The Last Werewolf, and it's written by a gent named Glen Duncan. It's basically a thriller, a hardcover thing meant to be peddled from the best-seller racks from major retailers. But it's also incredibly well-written; it's literate yet thrilling in a way that only certain British books can be. The protagonist is a 200-year-old werewolf by the name of Jacob Marlowe, a well-read, cool in a Ricky Gervais sort of way, philosophizing, tired guy who's killed hundreds of people over his, er. . . career. He's the last of his kind, etc. after an international paranormal police organization has killed of every other werewolf. So now he's in the cross-hairs. There are the usual conflicts; firstly, he's tired of life and would more-or-less turn himself in as a soon as not. Then later, after goings-on, he decides he'd like to live. Even later, that he'd really like to live. There are vampires, who of course are the werewolves arch-nemesis. Yet, the vampires want him alive for their own purposes (werewolves apparently hold the secret to allowing vampires to strut around in daylight.) The plot is as tightly-wound and as expertly constructed as any you'll come across. The differentiating thing is the writing and the moral issues raised. The writing, as I said, is as intelligent and irony-tinged as it comes. It's entertainment literature of the highest caliber. Jake is also a terrible hedonist; some of the most carefully detailed scenes involve anal sex with prostitutes. (Also, the most irritating error on the part of Duncan is an ill-advised description of werewolf vagina. I just didn't want to hear about it.) But Jake makes things interesting with his too-cool sense of humor and by waxing poetic about the meaning, or lack thereof, of it all. As in life, moral implications of killing and devouring people, etc. I wish I had some passages to illustrate here, but I'm too lazy to dig them up (also, I didn't use a highlighter on the book as per usual; the book is just too pretty, and I couldn't bring myself to besmirch the pages. You'll just have to buy it, gentle reader. [Oh wait, I do remember something: Jake is captured at one point, and is left in a cage, in wolf-form, with a "snack" provided by his captors. The snack, of course, is a bound man who's shitting himself in diarrhea-inducing terror. Jake, in an effort to appear nonchalant to his captors, tries his darndest to abstain from slaughtering the poor man. The chapter ends. The next begins, simply, with, "Reader, I ate him." Dry, cool wit, etc.]) All in all, it's a cheap, predictable book that's super smart and as fun as anything you'll ever read.

Wells. That's all I have to say about that. Let me know what you think, if you read the book. Give me suggestions for other books or just input on werewolves in general. (BTW, for another excellent genre-mashing book, I really recommend DeWitt's The Sisters Brothers, a super-unique take on the western. It's recently been nominated for the Man Booker, which is incredible.)

3 comments:

  1. I always enjoy your entries. They are interesting and they make me ponder. Thanks.

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  2. Thanks, Amanda! I appreciate it :)

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  3. It's not a problem. You should write on here more often. :)

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