In my last post I talked about my love of zombies—the blank stares, the hyperfast sprinting, and the social allegory of the undead—and my less-than-love for the resurgence of swoony vampires. In light of the revival of such classic horror monsters, I’m left wondering: what about werewolves? (Or for that matter, mummies—because isn’t a walking mummy kinda-sorta like a zombie? But anyway… Today we’re talking about werewolves.)
There have been a few recent werewolf appearances in books and on the screen: Toby Barlow’s novel-length poem, Sharp Teeth, for example, and MTV’s Teen Wolf series—now in it’s third season. And let’s not forget Twilight’s Jacob Black, the love-torn, angst-ridden teen subject of this Facebook group.
None of these stories, though, have re-envisioned werewolves in quite the way I’ve been craving. I want less teen angst and more action, more imagination and reinvention within the cannon.
Benjamin Percy’s second novel, Red Moon (Grand Central Publishing 2013), finally delivers such a story, and just in time for hammock weather here in Iowa.
A couple weeks ago I talked about zombies as representative of something Other coming into our human lives and messing everything up without bias. But if zombies represent an outside force altering life as we know it, werewolves, especially in Percy’s novel, are more representative of what humanity does to itself—what humans are capable of doing to each other.
If zombies are the outside elements, werewolves are the inside job.
Justin Cronin heralds Red Moon as “the world’s first 9/11 werewolf book,” and the parallel makes sense. In the novel, an act of terrorism triggers an unchecked fear response in non-lycan Americans. Sound familiar?
Here. Cronin again:
Percy recasts virtually every social-justice struggle over the last half-century in lycanthropic terms, from desegregation to the desire of peace-loving American Muslims to go about their business without being treated like pariahs.
Red Moon’s werewolves show that we are capable of casting each other in the role of Monster; that Monsters are largely born of circumstance.
In an article for The Guardian, Clare Allan argues that “in reality we live in a world peopled entirely by round characters presented to us from the outside. Trapped as we are in our own perspective, there is a constant temptation to flatten those around us, to see types as opposed to individuals. But fiction forces on us the dizzying reality that inside every human being is a world as unique as our own.”
This is the ultimate strength of Percy’s book. In a world where it’s common to “Other-ize” communities that are not our own—be it because of sexual orientation, gender identity, religious beliefs, race, or culture—it’s important to think outside ourselves. The werewolves in Red Moon are the Other, and in getting to know them, we learn that they are not so different from ourselves.
In May, Ben Percy created his own seven-song Red Moon playlist for the folks over at Shelf Awareness. I decided to challenge myself to use the same number of songs in my own playlist.
I wanted the songs to express, in equal parts, the world climate of the novel—the lawlessness, constant running, and extremist patriotism that comes in the wake of an act of terrorism—as well as the personal: the yearning for love lost and the fear of hurting those you care about.
Here’s the breakdown:
“Furr” by Blitzen Trapper: How could I not include this one? It’s the novel’s epigraph. Plus it’s an excuse to share one of my favorite songs of the last 10 years.
“The Times They Are A-Changin’” by Bob Dylan: No matter where they hide—colleges, laboratories, cabins—the characters in Red Moon can’t avoid the big (and terrifying) ways in which their world is changing.
“Breaking the Law” by Judas Priest: In a political climate where right and wrong are grey areas, law gets thrown to the wind. I’ll leave it at that. Go read the book.
“Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” by Toby Keith: In the wake of an act of terrorism, a group of high school boys, calling themselves The Americans, gets taken up in extremist patriotism. I’m pretty sure this would be their anthem. I also remember this song playing on repeat (over and over and over ad nauseam) after 9/11.
“The Wolves” by Bon Iver: At the center of Percy’s novel are Claire and Patrick, two star-crossed lovers kept apart by Claire’s lycanthropy. This song reminds me of Claire in particular, and her fear of hurting those she loves, especially Patrick.
“Girl from the North Country” by Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan: The star-crossed lovers at the center of Red Moon know only how to find each other by email. I imagine them constantly on the lookout for one another, constantly half-expecting (and half-hoping) to run into each other.
“One Step Ahead of the Devil” by Blue Oyster Cult: The driving rhythm of this song lends itself to running (and road-tripping, in case you were wondering), and boy do these characters know how to run. Red Mooners are always on the move—outrunning their enemies, outrunning themselves, outrunning a country tearing at the seams.
The idea of Monstrosity is, admittedly, a writing obsession of my own, so it should come as no surprise that I loved Red Moon. Percy is also no stranger to the monster genre, so if you’re wandering around in a post-Red Moon haze, check out this 2010 NPR segment he did on specters and ghosts in “Haunted Wisconsin.” Bonus: if you haven’t heard Ben Percy read before, you’ll want to buy the Red Moon audiobook after listening to this.
Maybe if we howl loud enough, we’ll get a sequel… Who’s with me?
Listen to the Ploughshares Red Moon playlist here.
World War Z (A Playlist)
Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities
Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove
Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler
George Saunders’ Tenth of December
Cheryl Strayed’s Wild