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Mongrels (Book)

MongrelsWritten by Stephen Graham Jones

Published by William Morrow


Stephen Graham Jones is a writer who constantly shatters the borders of dark fiction. No genre can hold him and few other authors can keep up with him. I’d say he’s at the top of his game if I thought he were actually playing with others. But he isn’t. He’s in a category by himself and I can pick his unique voice out of a paragraph lineup. Every sentence he writes is a magnificent little masterpiece welded together like no one else can. His prose is at once conversational and graceful, majestic and plain, fine-tuned and loose-jointed. It’s the beautiful girl you’re too scared to talk to, the goth chick you’re frankly terrified of, and the plain girl next to you at lunch who knows how to make you laugh.

When I got my hands on Jones’ new novel Mongrels, I was beside myself. I put it on the shelf and read a few other things instead, teasing myself walking by it and looking at it all sexy. When I finally couldn’t stand it anymore, I snatched it down and rushed off to bed with it. I read it over the course of three nights and seriously considered just rereading it as soon as I was done.

I got totally lost in the hopeful, tragic world Jones created in Mongrels, a world of dirt-poor, vagabond werewolves, suspicious white trash neighbors, the occasional mob of villagers with pitchforks, and a young protagonist trying his hardest to come of age.

Which, in his family, means a lot more than some acne, voice malfunctions, and new hair in odd places. Well, okay, it definitely means that last one. But he’s desperate to get on with it, to transform for the first time and finally feel like a full-fledged member of the family. Which is only Libby and Darren, his were-aunt and were-uncle, at this point. He’s not worried about asking a girl to the dance; he doesn’t want to make the basketball team; he’s not dreading gym class. He wants to fucking wolf out, to let his ancient, inherited blood turn him into the beast his family has always told him he is.

But it seems he’s a late bloomer. The sidelong glances from his uncle needle him with their disappointment. The worried looks from his aunt, who hopes he’ll be spared the life, are even worse. He’s been learning how to live like a werewolf for fourteen years. Except for the whole transforming and running down his dinner, he is a werewolf.

The three of them live on the fringe of society. Both animals and people know there’s something off about them and they never stay in one place too long. Turns out, being a werewolf isn’t easy and our faithful protagonist suffers most of the travails of full wolfhood even before he’s changed for the first time. Dodging the law. Scraping together pennies from the car seats for a hotdog. Shitty, short-term jobs, broken down cars, sneaking out of trailer parks at midnight aimed at another state.

It’s no life for a teenage boy on the verge of…something. It’s not really much of a life for werewolves, either, but it’s what they’ve got.

I’m sure people are tired of hearing about an author who has a fresh take on an old theme. How he or she shattered the old mold and breathed fresh life into a tired and worn out topic. So I won’t tell you that’s what Stephen Graham Jones does with Mongrels, because what he does is so much more. Even though the book is full of werewolf lore, origin stories, and the ever-popular “rules,” the soul of the whole thing is the fractured, beautiful story. Libby, Darren, and the protagonist are people we care about. Even as wolves they’re carefully drawn characters who appeal to our humanity. Calling this a werewolf story is like calling Frankenstein a monster story.

This book is vicious, funny, heartwarming, and heartrending. Literally. Stephen Graham Jones has put together a novel that defies genre and expectations. It’s going to take you for a ride, and it’s not always going to be comfortable and it’ll never be predictable.

Mongrels isn’t about how to make other werewolves or whether they’re governed by the moon. It’s about the sticky, painful, twisted mystery of life and becoming who you truly are. Even if, sometimes, who you truly are may indeed be what you truly are.

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Brent R. Oliver

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