If you’ve been following Stephen Graham Jones for awhile and read some of his interviews, then you will know that he’s long had a fascination with writing a werewolf novel. He’s done his research into the genre, and even taught a class on the werewolf in books and movies, and now it’s finally here. And it’s everything I’d hoped for and more.
In Mongrels the werewolves are very real, and you can find them, but you’ll have to look on the outskirts of society. If you grew up in a small town, like I did, you will recognize these individuals. They often lived in the rent houses on the other side of the tracks, although not for very long. Or, you might have heard about them living in a house a few miles outside of town, one you didn’t even know had electricity. They might have come through town and then been gone in the dead of night, almost before you could blink. They would have had worn down clothing and been scraping change together to eat and pay their bills. You would have recognized their car if you saw it at the Mini-Mart.
Mongrels is put together as a scattering of memories from a young boy, one who isn’t quite sure where exactly he came from, who he is, or even who – or what – he will become. He is nameless, but not truly faceless, because Jones makes sure that we recognize him. Whether it’s through the recounting of the feelings and anxieties of those first feelings of love in junior high school, or through a few short, simple lines that sum up the awkward experience of growing up – “I didn’t know how to hold my face” – you know this person because he is you.
The bittersweet memories of adolescence are intermingled with the additional pain of poverty, loss, and the complications of family history, which are even more muddled and complex when that history involves being a werewolf. Many of these memories are further distanced by being told in third person as the narrator takes on the persona of whatever role he is currently playing: the nephew, the reporter (for a class project), the criminal (when he’s in trouble at school), or the vampire (for Halloween),
The vampire’s aunt says it’s selfish, it’s stupid, it’s not heaven being a wolf all the time, and some nights she cries from it, from all the ones dead on the interstate. From all of them running away with bullets in them like pearls made from lava. From all of them stopping at a fence line, a calico cat in their mouths, something about that yellow window in the house keeping them there (Chapter 2).
Throughout it all, Jones reshapes and redefines werewolf mythology. He reinforces some beliefs that we’ve learned from the books and movies, but dispels others with a common sense approach. He provides in-depth information on the variety of ways that werewolves can “cash out.” He explains, for example, that there are definitely situations you don’t want to change during, and how anger management issues can become a problem, say, if you’re a long haul trucker who “goes wolf up in the cab, behind the wheel.” Bad things can happen during that kind of situation, like wrecking
for the simple reason that steering wheels aren’t designed for monsters that aren’t supposed to exist (Chapter 3).
Much of the narrator’s struggle has to do with learning more about his birth, and as the novel progresses he slowly gives us more insight into how werewolves come into existence to begin with … and why there are so few female werewolves. Through this book, like a backbone, runs the strong theme of family, and the desperate and continuing struggle to hang on to those who are ours – who are all that we have – even if we sometimes can hardly bear it,
I hated Darren, and I would have chewed my hand off just to see him one more time (Chapter 17).
The chapters fly by. The stories and situations feel real, and are often funny or terrifying or both. This book shows off one of my favorite things about Jones’s writing, which is that he can put so much story into just a few words. The way he tells things always sounds like home, which is weird because that place and life that he talks about and that I remember really isn’t even home to me anymore, but it’s still in there – that feeling. And he nails it.
Mongrels is coming out on Tuesday, May 10th. You can pre-order your copy today – and you should, because this book is amazing. It’s going to grab you with its teeth, get a good, strong grip, and just not let go …
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