Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

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Yesterday was another cold day in Calgary, but I did manage to do the circle at the pond, came home and nested for a bit and then decided to curl up on the red sofa in the afternoon sunlight, covered with the green quilted blanket, tiny sip of sherry in hand and set out to finish the book, Mongrels.  I was determined. This book has been a challenge over the Christmas holiday, not because it was long or complex, but in fact, the subject matter was entirely foreign to me.

Anything I’ve read about Stephen Graham Jones, his prolific writing habits and his prominent reputation as a writer of “literary horror”, seems to be positive and for several reasons.  However, I’m not one for reading about mythological creatures or for delving into the world of fantasy.  I must confess that I have read several of Anne Rice’s novels, starring vampires, beginning with The Interview with the Vampire and I’ve followed the vampire, Lestat, to the point where I could imagine the smell and taste of blood.  Yes!  It’s true. Disgusting!  Anne Rice’s vampire narratives are that believable! The vampire is a more popular ‘creepy’ character in contemporary writing; much less common is the appearance of the four legged man-wolf, the werewolf.

I found some aspects of the book, as it moved along, redeeming.  There was just something about the structure, though, that hounded me.  This is what went on…I became intrigued by the story of Libby, Darren and the youthful narrator (a young dude hoping that he begins, at some point, to transform into a werewolf, as his Aunt and Uncle do).  Problem is that this narrative was intruded upon by alternating chapters that spoke from a different point of view, in a very uncanny way.  At regular intervals I was forced to sort out a shift as the young dude became ‘the vampire’ (at Halloween), Darren, the vampire’s Uncle and Libby, the vampire’s Aunt; ‘the reporter’, Darren, the reporter’s Uncle and Libby, the reporter’s Aunt; ‘the criminal’, Darren, the criminal’s Uncle and finally Libby, the criminal’s Aunt….and so it went in alternating chapters for the entire novel.  What was that about?

I’ve read so many reviews on this book and there isn’t one that addresses this shift in point of view.  For me, it adds a complexity that doesn’t seem necessary.  The reviews are generally positive and share accolades for the unique approach to telling a werewolf story, the freshness of the ‘coming-of-age’ angle and the situational originality.  I agree with these positive aspects, but I really did struggle with the structure.  In this particular review…they refer to it as an ‘episodic’ structure.  Not a fan of graphic novels and such, perhaps this is where the problem is for my reading preferences.

While the episodic structure sometimes causes the novel to feel as aimless as its characters, it’s still an often moving portrait of a family struggling to survive in a world that “wants us to be monsters.” (May)

Generally…readers see it the way of this particular review.

“A compelling and fascinating journey, Mongrels alternates between past and present to create an unforgettable portrait of a boy trying to understand his family and his place in a complex and unforgiving world. A smart and innovative story— funny, bloody, raw, and real—told in a rhythmic voice full of heart, Mongrels is a deeply moving, sometimes grisly, novel that illuminates the challenges and tender joys of a life beyond the ordinary in a bold and imaginative new way.”

I think that if it touches me in any way, it is to feel empathy for ‘the outsider’.  I did grow to listen to the narrator’s young voice with a big heart.  I haven’t given up on a book before.  In the case of this one, it was an ‘almost’ situation…but, LOOK!  It is done.

And, yes, mongrels survive! :0)

Now, I’m into a book that has a very traditional flow and seeming linear story line, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers.  Stay tuned as I explore the story, opening with the description of John Singer, who rents a room in the Kelly house after his fellow deaf companion, Spiros Antonapoulos.

 

 

 

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