I thought, for fun, and since I haven't posted for a while, I’d share a review of The Wolf Gift by Anne Rice that I wrote for the on line book chat I conducted for Pioneer Press all those years ago (July of 2012 to be exact). I chose it for one of the rounds and let’s just say I wasn’t overly satisfied by the time I reached the end.
Well I've finished The Wolf Gift by Anne Rice. We'll have a live, on line chat on it at 7 p.m. July 10 at this very blog. Sign in and join the discussion. I'll save most of my thoughts for the chat but I do have to mention that Reuben Golding is quite possibly the most fortunate character in literature. The beast he transforms into shouldn't be termed "the Man Wolf" but rather "the Lucky Dog."
Let's tally up here. He's born into a wealthy family and manages to get a master's in English, as well as attend a number of archaeological digs (a fact that conveniently figures into the story) before the age of 23. He's also tall and incredibly handsome.
When the novel opens he's working as a reporter, a job acquired thanks in part to his mom's influence with the editor, and has already had a couple of major murder stories under his belt. Very unusual for a reporter less than a year on the job.
While doing a story on the sale of the Nideck mansion (which, once he sees it, he considers buying because at age 23 he never the less has enough money to do so), he beds down the beautiful owner of the mansion, Marchent Nidek. Unfortunately for him it happens the same night her psycho brothers break in and kill her, severely wounding him. Fortunately, it's also the night that a mysterious, beastly protector kills the brothers, leaving Reuben with only a few nips. Also in the "win win" column is the fact that Marchent, seeing his appreciation for the house, managed to fax over papers to her lawyer earlier that night bequeathing the house to Reuben.
How Cool is that!
Now we all know what's going to happen, it's not a secret, especially since as he heals, quickly, Reuben notices some changing going on in his body (one of them being that his lustrous hair becomes even more so). When the first transformation occurs, it's not the violent, agonizing, terrifying experience we've come to expect from werewolf tales. Oh no. For Lucky Dog, the transformation is a fantastic, orgasmic experience. And while the werewolves in other stories revert to mindless beasts, Reuben retains his mind presenting him with the best of both worlds: The strength of the beast with the conscience of the man. Even better, the first night it happened, he was alone in his parents' house. How embarrassing would it have been to start into something like that and have mom pounding at the door. Of course, once that big, empty Nideck mansion clears probate, he's able do his transforming in private.
Reuben does go on rampages, but he's compelled only to kill evil people, which he can sense so he knows right where to find them. Even more convenient, after he kills them, all evidence that he was ever at the scene--hair, blood, tissue--simply disintegrates into nothing leaving no tie to the crime. And, as time goes by, he learns how to transform into beast or man at will.
Now a life such as this might get lonely. Luckily on one of his wolfish forays into the forest, he chances upon a woman named Laura living in a cabin who not only isn't scared of the Man Wolf stepping onto her porch, she's actually attracted to him enough to invite him into her bed. At last! An understanding girlfriend.
Perhaps I should clarify that the Man Wolf is literally a man/wolf. A hairy (and apparently sexy) beast who can walk upright, has a level of manual dexterity and can apparently satisfy a woman sexually without ripping her to shreds in the process.
What the heck kind of star was this guy born under? Larry Talbot is drooling all over himself after transforming and this guy is romancing women in forests.
There are other little fortunate asides like the fact that Reuben is able to unburden himself during confession with his brother Jim, who is a priest and bound by the sacramental law that states, "What's said in confession, stays in confession."
Also amazing is that at a time when newspapers are running on skeleton staffs composed of harried reporters working on any number of stories at one time, Reuben's editor seems content with the couple of stories on the Man Wolf that Reuben manages to file. Even then, the stories require little footwork or research on Reuben's part because, as the Man Wolf, he was there!
Now I understand the need for convenience in fiction, especially fantasy. It helps propel the plot. But a liberal sprinkling of inconveniences can also offer the story a sorely needed sense of dramatic tension.
The title of the novel indicates clearly the track Rice is on. Lycanthropy is not a curse, it's a gift, one that can be controlled and used for good. This plot device has found great favor in literature for years now. But even this "gift" would also have to be incredibly life altering, especially in the early stages, and so consequently the lycanthrope would have to experience some inconveniences, awkward moments, and dangerous issues. As I read The Wolf Gift, I couldn't help but think of how much more interesting it might have been if Reuben Golding didn't have fortune's safety net to keep catching him when these inconveniences arose. What if he didn't have a mansion and its many quiet acres to run to? What if he didn't have money to easily purchase things he needed for this condition? What if the change overcame him in public? What if Laura had some initial misgivings about dating a Man Wolf? Perhaps if he had had more more stumbling blocks to navigate in his strange journey, I might have found Reuben's story a bit more interesting.