Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Wolfman by Jonathan Maberry

Oh my god I am so friggin' pretentious.

I do most of my course reading on the M-train commute to work. I live in Bushwick and pass through Williamsburg, heart of the Brooklyn hipster universe. Every morning I see the same familiar flannel shirt-tight jeans-ironic facial hair crowd reading Murakami and listening to Animal Collective or Das Racist or whatever. They're a pretty literate bunch, too. There are all sorts of tiny rituals involved in riding the subways and one of them involves sizing up what people are reading. When I first came to NYC, everyone was reading the Dragon Tattoo series. These days it's mostly the Game of Throne books.

Nobody's reading a novelization of a failed horror flick.

I'd see people give my book the once-over and I could almost hear that checkout counter this-does-not-compute WONK sound. For the first few rides I just wanted to plead with people: "No, you don't understand! Maberry is a really good writer! And I have to read this cuz the madman I'm taking the class from assigned this to us!"

Eventually I took to covering the cover with my bookmark while I read. It was just easier.

I really, really didn't get this assignment.

I saw the movie back in the day and I can't remember any of the plot. It was one of those 'meh' films, instantly forgotten immediately after consumption. I remember that Benicio Del Toro was miscast, Anthony Hopkins was in high camp mode, and the movie's attempt to recapture the feel of classic Universal Horror was crushed under the curdling weight of studio mediocrity.

I had zero interest in reading this book and, frankly, I thought you were nuts to assign it.

Turns out the novelization was a zillion times better.

I like werewolves okay. They make a strong metaphor for our unchained animalistic desires and they fit in extraordinarily well in straight-laced, repressive Victorian England. During the residency, I pushed forward the theory that monsters are ultimately about our polarizing desires between freedom and conformity. There's a part of us that wants to be free, even if it is completely damaging to the world around us, and there's a part of us that wants to be safe and cheers when the free thing is destroyed. I found the chapters of the wolf's rampages exhilarating. In the really-real world, I'd hate to be responsible for the violent death of dozens of people, but there's something primal in my psyche that had a lot of fun with the wolfman's gory exultation.

I like gothic stories. I like crumbing old manors full of mysteries, crazy children, mysterious deaths, and dark secrets slowly unfurling in the foggy moors.

I like stories where the werewolves are barely-disguised Oedipal complex figures battling it out to have sex with their in-law. It's so squicky!

I like the whole Goddess of the Hunt thing. It's a clever way for the characters to conceptualize the full moon.

I like decadent actors. They made living in Astoria fun. They break out into song in the middle of Two Boots, they're flirts because they're needy and they're pretty because it's part of the job. I like the world Lawrence inhabits, even if he is kind of a wet blanket.

I recently chewed apart Breeding Ground for its lack of ambition and I kind of feel like a hypocrite for not attacking The Wolfman in the same way. The difference is, I feel, style and missed opportunity. Every aspect of Breeding Ground lead me to believe it was going to say something deeper and more interesting about gender products. Even ignoring the shaky plotting, too many opportunities were missed.

The Wolfman set out to tell a gothic werewolf story and Maberry told it well. It ain't perfect, it didn't change my perspective of werewolves the way Alan Moore did with "The Curse" or the way the film Ginger Snaps did, but I liked the story. Werewolf stories are often ultimately terminal disease stories and I felt sad to see Talbot go.

It was, of course, better than the movie.


Jennifer Loring said...

You know, that's *exactly* how I felt about Breeding Ground--one giant missed opportunity by someone who couldn't get a grasp on her own subject matter. I haven't actually read The Wolfman yet (I did see the movie), so I'm not expecting to be blown away. So little werewolf literature/film does that, but yeah, Ginger Snaps was one. I'm glad this book is better than the movie; my reservations about reading it have abated, at least a little bit.

Also, "Ironic facial hair" is my new favorite phrase.

Creature said...

It helps that I really don't remember a goddamned thing about the movie aside from my terrible apathy for the whole thing.

The book is better. It isn't a chore. Expect more neutered sex-role dynamics, though. Maberry is good, but the story is a sex story. Going to him off of Barker is like going from smoking crack to smoking melted gummy bears.

Cin Ferguson said...

I gotta admit, I saw the movie and I enjoyed it. Yeah, so slap me and may I have another. :) And I really enjoyed making movie and novel comparisons, as well as researching the story origins.

I loved your description of subway riding. It made me nostalgic, because that was how I got all of my reading in when I was studying Public Health at GWU. In D.C., the Metro is much the same as you described the crowd in New York. Literary novels abounded in concert with the Washington Post and upscale magazines. That's part of why I knee-jerked against reading "The Lovely Bones." There was a time on the Metro that the book was everywhere. But New York must be a different animal (maybe rougher/more critical) because I never cared what the Metro audience caught me reading. It gave me secret pleasure to read books like "Rumo" in a tube filled with politicians and college professors. Hopefully they became curious and gave Walter Moers a try. If they did, then they learned a thing or two.

I liked your comparison to the werewolf and human nature. What lurks within us that is dying to get out? What untamed spirit lies just beneath our skin? I also think it's funny that the moon is described as female and all of the werewolves in the story are male. Perhaps it's also meant as an analogy of how women bring out the animalistic tendencies in men? Hmmm...

C. R. Langille said...

I thought it was better than the movie as well. I wasn’t very impressed with the film when it came out; maybe I had high expectations. In either case, I thought Mayberry did a good job overall with taking that tale and giving us something entertaining. As you stated, the whole, Goddess of the Hunt was a new and refreshing take on the whole thing. I thought he did great with the setting. I like werewolves when they are done well, and this iteration of the beast was almost spot on with what I enjoy. And on a side note, I saw Ginger Snaps and that was a cool flick.

J.L. Benet said...

I also enjoyed the novel much better than the movie. I am a huge werewolf fan. It's actually what I did my first Master's on. I have seen every major werewolf movie, which both helped and hurt my experience with the remake as I saw all of the allusions and nods that were introduced. Much of feel of the movie holds more to "The Curse of the Werewolf" than "Wolf Man."

I also liked the gory slaughter scenes. They are usually fun to write, and fun to read. There is an element of the gross-out and the glorifying in something so despicable in real life.

The Goddess thing was an interesting touch at first, but I felt it got old. But the original had that old saying that everyone in the movie says at one point or another.

I think it would be difficult for this book/movie to change your perspective of werewolves as the original was the formative text for werewolves in our culture. I did like "The Curse" and "Ginger Snaps," but they wouldn't be the movies they are without their forebears.

Nicole Miller said...

I agree with Cody, I thought Maberry did an excellent job with setting. I didn't care for the movie when it came out. However,after reading the novel and watching it again,I had a greater appreciation for the subtleties of theme and story.

I disagree that the novel fell short and there were many missed opportunities.I don't think the prose style of the novel could be improved. Every word Maberry used contributed to the setting or overall theme of the work. The way Maberry strung the words together created a multi-layered thematic piece that addresses many different things including love, grief, complicated family relationships and the ultimate struggle of good and evil. This novel reminded me a lot of "Frankenstein" because it was more than just a story. It was a commentary on the human condition and whether or not motive plays a role in determining what is good and evil.

I also agree with Cin. I don't care what other people see me reading. My differences stand out so much anyways, I might as well read what I enjoy.If people can't appreciate that I see the world in a different way or that I prefer reading things that aren't mainstream, then they just aren't worth my time. I don't know. It's how I feel.

Jeff Brooks said...

I actually enjoyed the movie. Granted, I interact with horror on a only-for-this-class basis, so my saturation in the genre at my point of viewing was nonexistent. But I liked the movie. After reading the book, though, I realized that It could have been done a lot better. Or at least it works better as a novel. So much of the story works as internal thought that the movie really does lack that intense self-view that we get from Lawrence. One thing that I liked better in the movie than the book, however, was Aberline. Hugo Weaving is just great. Their characters were near identical, but Hugo's acting made the detective come alive for me.