Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Pages: 404 (hardcover)
Published: February 2012 by Knopf
Reuben Golding is a twenty-something reporter for a San Francisco newspaper-- he's a talented writer who has landed a great job, has a long-time girlfriend, and a family filled with success stories: his mother's a surgeon, his brother a priest, and his father a professor. When researching for a story along the California coast, he falls in love with the beautiful Nideck manor-- an elegant house surrounded by redwood forest and furnished with antiquities, books, and treasures from all around the world. He falls just as deeply in love with the woman who introduces him to the old house, the beautiful and lively Marchent. She tells him the story of how her uncle Felix, a brilliant intellectual and wealthy eccentric, the previous owner of Nideck house, disappeared years ago while on an archeological dig.
But Reuben's love affair with Marchent and with the Nideck house is doomed to end too quickly, when Marchent is attacked suddenly in the night and Reuben himself is bitten by an unknown beast during the struggle. Days later, he wakes up in the hospital to discover that his friends and family, who surround him with their worries, are convinced that he is no longer himself, that he has changed in some elusive, yet vital way. Their suspicions are confirmed, when Reuben discovers that through the mysterious bite he has inherited a condition which both empowers and disturbs him, an ability to transform into a wolf-like creature-- a power he calls the "Wolf Gift". Summoned by the scents and sounds of terror, he begins a superhero-like spree of killing criminals and rescuing their would-be victims, causing the newspapers and the wide world to call him "The Man Wolf".
Compared to Anne Rice's earlier "supernatural transformation"-type books-- meaning, primarily her Vampire Chronicles-- The Wolf Gift was an enjoyable jaunt of a book. Sure, there is some internal conflict within Reuben where he wonders if he could lose control of himself in his wolfen form or gradually become more of an animal than a man. ("The Man Wolf", by the way, is not a very scary moniker for a werewolf. And "the Boy Wolf" is even worse-- that's like calling the two characters Batman and Robin. There's a reason people tend to say "Wolfman", and not the inverse.)
Reading this newest book by Anne Rice, who I consider one of my all-time favorite horror and paranormal writers from childhood and pre-teenhood, I found myself missing the vampire Lestat de Lioncourt and his "savage garden" of a world. I missed the extravagant evil plans of the Egyptian vampire queen Akasha, the emotional angst ("I wished for death...") of Louis from Interview as he poured out his soul to a hopeful mortal boy in a dinghy hotel room. The things I enjoyed most seemed like elements of her earlier writing: the descriptions of the ornate elegance of the Nideck house, the mystery of the nature of Reuben's transformation, and the appearance of some decidedly sinister Russian scientists who seem far to eager to get their hands on Reuben for some "tests".
I enjoyed, for the most part, the prose and writing style-- even her ramblings, I love a good Anne Rice ramble-- but not so much some of the new plot elements she seems to have imported from the current paranormal romance genre. Such as Insta-love, for example-- you know, the oft-seen paranormal romance phenomenon in which the protagonist falls instantly in love with a person they have barely laid eyes on, much less spoken to. Reuben's love interest was like that and, though I mostly liked this Laura, I thought it happened wayy too quickly, especially with Reuben having a girlfriend and all. And then there just doesn't seem to be enough conflict, and when there is, it is over far too quickly. Parts of Reuben's background seemed irrelevant or even a little boring at times, and Reuben himself wasn't what I would call an enthralling protagonist. He lacked the eccentricities or the intrigue, even the deep sadness and emotional depth, of the protagonists of Rice's earlier paranormal books. *Cough, cough-- Lestat*
There was the spark of a good subplot with Reuben's brother Jim, a priest and his closest confidante. This could have been really interesting, I thought: how would such a religious man deal with his baby brother's suddenly confessing to him that he is an inhumane monster, a sin against nature and responsible for terrorizing the city and the world? The potential there was not fulfilled, for reasons I won't go into because of spoilers. The subplot of Felix Nideck and his disappearance and apparent death was never really fleshed out either, until nearly the very end of the book. And the Wolf Gift's ending... a real disappointment, for me, at least. Maybe I was hoping for too much "paranormal" and got too much "romance". Overall, I enjoyed the story-- it kept me turning the pages pretty quickly-- and a lot of the different elements: Anne Rice's familiarly evocative writing style and the way she kinda put her own spin on werewolves (not my favorite spin on werewolves either, though). But in the end, give me Interview or The Vampire Lestat (especially!-- that's still one of my favorite books) over this any day. The Wolf Gift is new and exciting, but altogether it is probably not destined to become an Anne Rice classic.