- Existential Werewolves
Stephen Graham Jones
320 Pages; Print, $24.99
In Mongrels, Stephen Graham Jones’s latest foray into the horror genre, following up on the now legendary Demon Theory (2006), and subsequent titles such as, It Came From Del Rio (2010), The Gospel of Z (zombies) (2014), The Last Final Girl (2012), The Least of My Scars (slashers) (2013), and Three Miles Past (2012), and After the People Lights Have Gone Off (horror shorts) (2014), he has now turned his not insignificant talents to the theme of the werewolf, or rather a family of werewolves. As anyone familiar with Jones’s work knows, however, his will not simply be a proficient exploration of a theme with an effective use of the necessary literary devices, but an example that also moves the boundaries of matter and form. Sure, Mongrels will feature the figure of the werewolf, but what one encounters here will be Jones’s werewolves.
The novel itself traces the experiences of an itinerant family of werewolves made up of aunt Libby, uncle Darren, and the unnamed teenage narrator/protagonist, as they travel along the highways in junk cars and trucks, moving from dead end job to dead end job and from run down trailer to run down trailer, across the deep south from Texas to South Carolina and back again. As this description suggests, however, despite the uncertainty of his shift as he has yet to “wolf out,” Jones’s apparent teenaged werewolf is not quite the middleclass teenwolf that many of us are already familiar with (from the 1985 film, not the series), and probably couldn’t be played by Michael J. Fox. He doesn’t wear a lettermen jacket, shoot hoops, or have a stable home and school life, but instead spends a lot of time thinking about what it means to be different, marginalized, rejected. Nor does his family (stories about his grandfather, as well as his dead mother and absent father, are also remembered and told throughout the narrative) align neatly with the inscrutable and uncontrollable werewolves of European folklore and legend. What Jones does with Mongrels instead, is take the genre apart and put it back back together again in a way that is uniquely his own. He is, as asserted in an interview from my just released critical study of his work, The Fictions of Stephen Graham Jones: A Critical Companion, writing to “make the world make sense.” As such, Mongrels offers readers a story that embraces its subject matter with zeal—detailing the taxonomy and genesis of werewolves, while writing them as beings-in-the-world.
Jones accomplishes this by creating werewolves, and also moondogs, town wolves, lycanthropes, and so-called sheep, whose lives are much more complicated than their relationship to the cycles of the moon, or by their efforts to avoid silver, and especially silver bullets typically allows. And Mongrels is as much about difference and otherness on the existential level as it is about the social/representational, allowing it, perhaps, to tease at Slavoj Žižek’s notion of “disparity” as a challenge to “correspondence, consistency, equivalence, unity, similarity, likeness, uniformity parallelism, congruity… as a Whole whose parts do not fit together…” Jones’s werewolves are, indeed, incongruent beings that stand atop the food chain, but as the characters we access the story through we see that they also occupy a liminal space within American society, barely able to manage the day to day challenges of life and securing the basic necessities of food, clothing, and shelter. These are not creatures that lurk out there in the darkness, but beings that make and listen to stories—remembering that scars are also always stories, too. Beings who also like to race trains, eat hotdogs, watch game shows, and frequent pawnshops. Why game shows, to address just one of the peculiarities Jones explores? I’ll let the narrator explain:
Used to I’d wondered why werewolves loved game shows on television so much. But then I got it. We never go to college, hardly ever finish high school. A good game show, though, if you listen right...