Monday, November 21, 2016

Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

What to say about Mongrels?   It was the perfect book for the Halloween season, that I happened to be reading during the Halloween season by sheer happenstance (which is to say  Before it, I had spent more than a month plodding through a collection of short stories that I actually liked, but was so simultaneously busy and reading enfunked that I could hardly be bothered to read, even given long stretches of plane rides - though that is when I probably did the most reading of said collection.

Mongrels is many things: a werewolf story, a horror story, a coming of age story, even a story about the truth in stories.  The narrator, a kid whose mother died in childbirth tells the story of his remaining family, his grandfather who likes to terrify and enthrall him with his tales of being a werewolf, his loose cannon Uncle Darren, and his fiercely protective Aunt Libby.  The kid grows up in frightened anticipation of the wolf that may or may not lurk in his blood, always fleeing the trouble that follows when his aunt or uncle has "wolfed out."

Forced to the fringe of society, never staying in one place too long, the kid only has his family to lean on, and he is forced to both love them and fear the unpredictable life they lead as werewolves.  Alternating between past and present, Jones creates a absorbing modern mythology for werewolves that has nothing to do with a full moon.  Instead of embracing the mystery that comes with these creatures, Jones offers up a fascinating take on what it might look like to only semi-predictably change to a wolf in the midst of everyday life and what it looks like to love a wolf like family. 

The unnamed kid at the center of the story is the perfect narrator, giving an inside perspective on living with werewolves - werewolves who are also normal people who he loves. As the story goes on, he's trying to carve out an identity for himself whether werewolf is in his blood or not.  As he grows he comes to know that he can't take his grandfather's stories that he grew up on quite at face value because there's a deeper meaning to be found in them, an illumination of past tragedy wrapped up in a garden-variety fireside scary story.

I was so captivated by these characters that after I'd turned the last page, I spent the following days depressed that I couldn't read more about them when I got home from work.  Mongrels is a unique easy to read horror story that succeeds in both being a horror story and transcending the genre classification.  The boy's coming of age journey creates the perfect tension as you wait to see if he comes of age as merely a man or as a werewolf, and down to the bitter end, I couldn't decide which would be best. 

(Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of Mongrels from the publisher in exchange for review consideration.)