Werewolf stories, as with zombies and vampires, have pretty much been played out – strip-mined beyond recovery, their once seemingly inexhaustible appeal now a barren wasteland of recycled plots and sparkly frenemies.
So when I heard Stephen Graham Jones had written a werewolf novel – novel!! – I was understandably… excited!
Having become familiar with SGJ’s short story collections, (The Ones That Got Away and After the People Lights Have Gone Off) where he kept me joyously off-balance with a broad range of superbly-crafted tales of horror and darkness, I was eager to grab a copy of Mongrels, excited to see what he could do with monsters whose wolf costume had worn thin and more than a little shiny along the flanks.
I have to confess to being apprehensive about the word ‘novel’ associated with werewolves. What I mean by that is, this horror sub-genre seemed so played out, that I wasn’t sure if ANY author could successfully pull off an entire novel about werewolves these days!
Happily, my concerns were abated pretty much after the first paragraph or so, as I was immediately invested in the main characters, an adult brother and sister (who just happen to be werewolves) raising their nephew, who may or may not be one of them.
The novel is told from the boy’s point-of-view, and follows his story for roughly ten years as he travels the southern US with his aunt and uncle, (werewolves are nomads, for obvious reasons) the trio living hand-to-mouth in crumbling, abandoned trailers, working odd jobs and stealing and conning their way back and forth across the South, looking for a better life that they know they can never truly have.
It’s a coming-of-age story, reading more like a literary novel than horror, but don’t forget for a minute that this IS a horror novel. Actually, you can’t because SGJ reminds you of that fact with little punches of unsettling detail distributed throughout the book, ranging from descriptions of the horrific transformations to the dispatching of an owl (in a spectacularly grisly fashion!) to a cop’s belt – with no cop in it.
Mongrels alternates between past and present events, following the young boy’s transformation from childhood to manhood as he yearns to belong, either in the world of werewolves or in the world of humans. The novel has a Southern noir feel, depicting werewolves as ragged, desperate outsiders pursued not only my men who discover their secret, but by other werewolves bent on keeping their culture secure – even if it means attacking their own kind.
Stephen Graham Jones is a gifted wordsmith, weaving a tale with equal parts humor and heart, interlaced with moments of sheer terror as the boy and his family struggle to not only stay together, but stay alive in a world that’s becoming increasingly dangerous.
Mongrels is easily one of the best books of 2016. It might just be the best werewolf novel ever written! Just as he kept me off balance so often with his short fiction, Stephen Graham Jones does that and more with this book. I didn’t know what was coming next, I only knew that, right from the first page I was enjoying the journey.
Mongrels would make a terrific little indie film as well. I don’t know if any producers have bought the rights, but don’t wait around for the movie – get the book today and “wolf out” on a truly great read!
Thanks for reading, Deadies!