August 15, 2012
GENRE: Literary Horror / Existential Treatise
Anne Rice, the woman who turned the tide of how we perceive monsters with her tortured, sympathetic vampires and her tortured, sympathetic witches, went far afield in recent years, exploring the nature of good and evil in books populated by angels and demons and Jesus Christ. With The Wolf Gift, however, she returns to her old stomping grounds, giving us the existential musings of Ruben, a not-too-tortured but quite sympathetic werewolf.
At the start of the novel, Ruben Golding is a handsome and thoughtful, if somewhat wayward, young man, slouching successfully through the beginnings of a promising career in journalism while the women in his life rev forward in a blaze of professional ambition. But Ruben is destined for greater, stranger things. On a trip up the Mendocino coast to interview the mysterious and lovely Marchent Nideck, Ruben is attacked and bitten by a creature thought to be a wolf. Over the course of the following month, his senses sharpen and he grows physically even more impressive as his metabolism transforms and he becomes, yes, a werewolf. Driven by bloodlust and an instinctual urge to protect and avenge the innocent, Ruben rips through a nice collection of San Francisco's bad guys and, in the process, creates a public sensation in the form of the Man Wolf, a dark, avenging hero. What follows are Ruben's attempts to reconcile the two halves of his nature - the man's and the predator's - while learning about the true nature of lycanthropy, falling in love with a sexy older woman, and trying to uncover the mystery of the previous generation of werewolves before they kill him, all while dodging an Evil Eastern European Doctor (tm) hell bent of eradicating his kind. Needless to say, there's a lot going on.
Sprinkled in and among all of this are plenty of musings on religion, God and the nature of good and evil, (some at such interruptive length that they try the reader's patience). As with Lestat, Rice clearly loves Ruben. She has made him a nearly unbelievable idyll, with an MA at 20, a penchant for existential musings and religious philosophy, and the uncanny ability to quote obscure short stories without a second thought. This is not a bad thing, it's just that one must suspend a great deal of disbelief to buy into Ruben as a character. But, if you let go of the expectation that he could be a real person (lycanthropy or no) and is, rather, simply a construct of Rice's imagination, the entire thing is easier and much more pleasurable to read. Ultimately, The Wolf Gift contains many elements that fans will recognize from the Vampire Chronicles and the Mayfair Witches. For non-fans, the mannered language, tepid climax and mild, cliffhanger ending may fail to work, but for the legion of readers that have been waiting for her to return to her monsters, The Wolf Gift will be a welcome homecoming.