(Above shows the book cover I have and it’s one of those that really feels nice to touch… that fetish thing again but you should really get that edition to know what I mean.)
I haven’t read in a while – that’s the reason I haven’t written on here, not because I was too lazy to write about what I’ve read. I’ve been writing a lot and sometimes these two occupations that should work together perfectly, don’t work for me at all and then I neglect one or the other. The last few days I did more of the reading again and here’s what I read:
I have read a couple of Anne Rice-novels before, from her vampire-series, but I can’t remember much of it. I know I’ve read Interview With a Vampire and I liked it but that’s pretty much all I remember: that Rice is a really good story-teller of the supernatural, the occult, the mystic. The Wolf Gift certainly proves that once again.
Rice builds a story around 23-year-old Reuben Golding who is bitten by a beast he couldn’t see in a fight for his life. He survives, other than the people who were with him at the time, and he inherits not only a big house but a ‘gift,’ the gift of difference, of wolf-dom, if you will. He’s changing, growing, his hair gets thicker and finally the wolf man breaks out of him and he feels that he has to punish evil, help the innocent. Yes, it reads like a superhero story but, of course, this is only part of it as the ‘superhero’ is part animal, a beast. This beast kills in it’s frenzy, feeding on the evil-doers, hunts them, tears them to pieces. As Reuben comes from a Catholic family (his brother, Jim, is actually a priest) there are musings about morality and religion. Other man wolves appear, the werewolf-myth is turned around, then skillfully resurrected. The great big evil is disposed of and we get to hear the whole myth in the end.
Well, the book has its lenghts, that’s for sure but it’s actually really fascinating how Rice loses herself in Reuben’s transformation, how she describes his struggles, not only with his new identity but with his family, with the outside world. The masterful descriptions of surroundings, smells, food, noises, rain… yes, here is somebody who knows her craft – and in the light of somebody (who will not be named) who tried to resurrect another mystical creature and did a crappy job of it, it almost feels like Rice is showing off. As well she should because she really is that good.
But with all the amazing talent this writer has, she also falls into some tropes I could have done without. The inevitable girlfriend, for example. He finds her in her cabin in the woods as his wolf-self and she’s not afraid. And they have sex, fall in love instantly – while he is still his wolf-self. I don’t know. I simply don’t feel it. He’s huge, he’s hairy, he has just killed some people, and this woman finds all that appealling? I find that a little disconcerting, to be honest. On the whole, the character of Laura takes a long while to become a character at all. She’s there for two-thirds of the book but there are only rare glimpses we get into her character, she seems more like an elongation of Reuben, she’s there to depict him as a loving man, she’s there as a plot-device – and she very rarely becomes anything else. It’s like Rice felt that with all the males around, there should be a female… but then her other female characters, minor characters fail to materialize as vivid as Rice’s males. They either seem caricatures, like Dr. Klopov, or they seem to be mere tropes, stereotypes: mother, girlfriend, true love, the doctor.
Given, most of the male characters are larger than life-myths, vibrant characters that have lived for centuries. They’re supposed to be the ones sticking out but it wouldn’t have hurt the story if there had been at least one female werewolf, surely?
I’m never sure where I stand with female novelists who make males their cherished protagonists and fail to let their female characters have substantial input into the plot, as well. The man/beast myth – yes, I know it’s traditionally just that MAN (not woman)/beast but Rice left the door open for the possibility of a femals werewolf. By the end of the novel that door still stands wide open but is never filled with a woman wolf. You can argue that Rice sticks to what she does best: describing the struggles of man – sometimes I’m just tired of patriarchal story-telling and wish that female authors would write more and better about their own gender (and I’m aware that I’m laying too much emphasis on gender here).
What Rice certainly does – and does well – is include gay-ness into her novels. The whole theme of werewolf-being can easily be read as homosexuality but Rice divides the two as she writes gay characters. That’s certainly commendable. If we see the man wolf as superhero, and that trope is certainly strong with Reuben, we have to attach the same trope to Stuart, an out 16-year-old, who gets accidentally bitten by Reuben. The same goes for Felix Nideck whom I read as gay even though it is never actually said out loud. Sexuality isn’t the big gay elephant in the room unless you want to make a point that Reuben’s heterosexuality is advocated a little bit too vehemently (but maybe that’s just me being sensitive because there’s never a good enough reason to use the word ‘impale’ in that context).
The Wolf Gift is a solid novel, it does what it promises to do: resurrect a myth – and there’s certainly no one in this genre who does that better than Anne Rice. It’s a little showy at times, yes, it lies heavily on moral contemplations, on the question of god/s and religion but it is still an enjoyable read. It captivates the reader, it overwhelms them in it’s lusciousness, and there’s certainly room for deep interpretation – and maybe a sequel.