It was suggested recently that I offer a review of Anne Rice’s “The Wolf Gift”, even though I have not finished the book. I was on the fence about this, because I’m not sure it’s possible to fairly judge a book without having finished it all the way through.
However, the fact that I wasn’t even able to finish it is perhaps review enough.
That said, I’ll offer the following comments regarding the book, as far as I have made:
If you are looking for a werewolf book that follows a traditional werewolf mythology, this ain’t it. In this book, the werewolf(ves) in question can change at will rather than being tied to the lunar cycle. This “gift”, while beyond the “victim’s” control at first, can be mastered, hence changing at will. And it comes with other interesting attributes, such as the ability to sense evil, almost as a smell, and the desire to play the furry fanged superhero to a city of murderers and tormentors. There is something to the idea of watching those who are due get their comeuppance, even if it involves tearing off of limbs and the disgorgement of viscera. But the great analogy of werewolf fiction, the inability to control aspects of oneself, is lost in this book. The straining dichotomy of being both good and evil at the same time is a primary driver of werewolf lore, and it makes for compelling reading in other fiction. Here the werewolf is incidental. If not a werewolf, the main character, a good Catholic boy with the improbable name of Rueben Golding, could just as easily be some other beast battling the forces of darkness. If not for the fur, he could be Batman.
The characterizations are implausible. Am I to truly believe that a woman with a deceased family backstory easily and without reservation falls into bed with a werewolf? Oh yes, that’s not a mistype. Her first encounter with our hero is a sexual one and it is with the hero of our story when he is in full werewolf form. There’s an undercurrent of romance to the novel that might be excused by Rice’s previous forays into erotica (see her Sleeping Beauty series), but this descends comically to the level of bestiality that is at once laughable and unbelievable.
An unbelievable story, however, may be saved by excellent writing. And that is sadly lacking here. In his book “On Writing”, Stephen King describes some writers as having a “tin ear” towards dialog. Rice is apparently hard of dialog hearing, as the characters come off antiquated and stilted. Take the following example, as the protagonist is conversing with himself, and, ostensibly the wolf lurking beneath:
“Oh, but you knew, didn’t you? Didn’t you know this was inside of you, bursting to come out? You knew!”
My guess is that Rice is trying to infuse a gothic sensibility into a modern-day story, but the results are flat. The proliferation of exclamation points within the dialog, and really throughout the entirety of the prose, underscores the crudely drawn characterizations. I suppose exclamation points are a matter of personal preference. I don’t mind the odd ! now and again, but the constant inclusion of them makes the characters seem melodramatic to the point of absurdity, and the result is that we feel very little, yay or nay, regarding their perils, lives or deaths.
But I hate to think that the book has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. So I desperately sought something to latch onto that would carry me through to the end. The best I could come up with is that, at least to the point where I stopped reading, there were no sparkling vampires. Alas, this was not enough to compel me to finish the novel.
In the end, I cannot recommend this book to anyone. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and for someone looking for a werewolf-superhero-romance mash-up, this book might just be the right cup of lunacy.