There’s nothing new to say about werewolves. Silver bullets, pentagrams on the palm, sudden urges for rare steak, howling, full moon transformations, bloodthirsty beasts rampaging about. We’ve seen it all, right?
Well, think again. As Jones, veteran speculative fiction writer, shows, there’s plenty more to tell, plenty more waiting to burst through to the surface. And some of what we think we know might need to be rewritten.
Of course you don’t believe in werewolves, right? Why would you? But maybe all those stories your grandpa told you weren’t just stories. Maybe he wasn’t just going senile when he talked about shifting and chasing after chickens, coming home bloody-jawed but satisfied. You always kept him talking because it seemed to make him happy, but what happens when all those stories turn out to be true?
Mongrels follows a young unnamed narrator and his aunt Libby and uncle Darren across the southern United States. They don’t have much except for each other and their secret: theirs is a family of wolves. Our narrator is a late bloomer and might never turn into a wolf, though he desperately wants to become a werewolf in order to fit into his little family. He sure as hell doesn’t think he’ll ever fit in anywhere else. In that sense, this is a coming-of-age story more than any other type of story. It’s a boy trying to figure out who he is, where he fits in the world, and dealing with his family and more embarrassingly, his body.
Jones has a very distinct writing style, a bit clipped and direct, and oh, so West Texas. I don’t think he can help himself—it just comes out. This book is definitely literary fiction. Perhaps if you read Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls or William Gay’s posthumously published Little Sister Death you might have a sense of an idea, but Jones is truly one of a kind.
I’ve been watching and reading a lot of werewolf media because of this book and I just keep thinking about how the genre seems a bit dead right now, like no one has anything new to offer. There are some interesting things, just looking at what was released in 2015, I did enjoy the movie When Animals Dream and the book When We Were Animals by Joshua Gaylord. I should mention I only read this book last week at the urging of Stephen himself, so there you go. I also only saw Ginger Snaps for the first time this past year and I actually quite liked that as well. Glen Duncan’s book The Last Werewolf is great and bears mentioning, while we are on the subject. I just tend to have trouble with werewolf stuff. And this is why.
Werewolves are people, but in the end, they are too much monster, or too much creature, and it seems that they always have to die. I know the ending before I start, so I just tend to stay away. There is a script already written for “werewolf” and whenever someone wants to use it, they just drag it out, dust it off, and copy it.
No? There is another whole set of werewolf movies that don’t deal as much with the internal struggle and are more about the slash-and-grab, but since we are talking about the coming-of-age story, that’s what I’m focusing on.
Let it be said that Mongrels is NOT this! If there really are werewolves wandering around in the twenty-first century, I suspect they fit more into Jones’s model. Moving around a lot, staying away from other people, doing odd jobs, getting mixed up with the cops a little too frequently. Our narrator and his family try to stay out of trouble, but it seems to find them anyways. Finding out that he is a werewolf is really just the beginning. The rest of the book is finding out how to deal with it and keep it all a secret.
The book is really about finding a way to be comfortable with who you are and who your family is, and then being proud of it, even if you can’t share it with the world. What is it that Libby and Darren are really running away from every time they move on? Every time they cause enough trouble so that they have to move on? Wolves don’t seem able to form lasting attachments, but there sure are wounds in their past that cut deep and haven’t healed yet.
In true Jones fashion, this book gets crazy (there is a moment where some dead dogs are piling up, I’ll warn you, it’s graphic), this book gets weird (werewolves are valuable for something I bet you’ll never guess), but mostly, this book gets under your skin—in a good way. Like how werewolf hair sucks back in, it’ll get inside of you and leave pieces of itself behind.
I have the pleasure of knowing Stephen personally and got my advance copy handed to me in person—and signed even, very lucky! Mongrels is out May 10, 2016, and I’m so glad this book is getting released by William Morrow—a great HarperCollins imprint that publishes a bunch of awesome horror/suspense/mystery type books. I can’t wait to see how this book will do. Please, please pick up a copy and give this amazing author a chance. If you like him, he’s written 15 novels and 6 short story collections. I’d be more than happy to point you in the direction of another great read by SGJ if you loved this one!
You can learn more about Stephen, his wolfish tendencies, and his books on his website.
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Check out this book or the books mentioned above:
MONGRELS—Stephen Graham Jones
THE SHINING GIRLS—Lauren Beukes
LITTLE SISTER DEATH—William Gay
WHEN WE WERE ANIMALS—Joshua Gaylord
THE LAST WEREWOLF—Glen Duncan
Find out more about the publisher of Mongrels, William Morrow (HarperCollins)
Assistant editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.