I devoured Interview with a Vampire in high school. The movie version was notable for a truly nightmare-inducing scene where the child vampire played by Kirsten Dunst pretended to cry and, when a kind elderly lady hugged her to comfort her, Dunst immediately sank her fangs into the woman’s neck. That, and hotties Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and Antonio Banderas, of course, but seriously, it was the Kirsten Dunst scene that made me cringe away from any hug for months afterward. The movie is great, but the book is amazing. Rice created such an enthralling, tragic, and yes, seductive mythology around vampires.
So when I heard Rice was coming out with a werewolf novel, I looked forward to seeing the mythology she’d create for werewolves. The Wolf Gift is a solid novel. It didn’t transport me like her vampire novels did, but it did entertain me, and Rice did introduce a fascinating twist to the werewolf mythology.
Reuben, a handsome young reporter, is bitten by a werewolf, and receives what he calls the “Wolf Gift.” Whenever he transforms into the Wolf Man, he can hear cries of distress and can smell evil. Wolf Gift reminds me of the standard superhero origin story — Reuben as the Wolf Man follows his wolfish super-instincts to track down evil and save the innocent, all the while yearning to find out more about the origin of his condition. In an ironic twist out of Spiderman and Superman, Reuben is assigned to cover the Wolf Man stories for his newspaper, and dryly wonders where Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen are. The public views Wolf Man as a hero — who wouldn’t want rapists and killers to be ripped apart? — but, as with all superhero stories, I kept waiting for the part where the public turns on the hero.
Some members of the public do turn against the Wolf Man, but mostly it is Reuben himself who is attacked by his conscience. His brother, a priest, points out that by killing evil people, Reuben is taking away from them their chance at redemption. A strong thread of Catholicism runs through Wolf Gift — Reuben only tells his brother about his Gift under the seal of Catholic confession, some of the characters debate Gerald Manley Hopkins and a book by a Catholic theologian, and Reuben himself, while unmoved by his brother’s point about redemption, is highly philosophical about his Gift. His articles for the paper, while sympathetic towards his Wolf side, also caution the public that the Wolf Man isn’t a straight up hero — what right does any one have to be judge, jury and executioner? To be honest, I found myself missing Lestat’s utter amorality, or even Louis’ pathos. Reuben’s approach to his moral dilemma felt very cerebral, and I didn’t really feel that he was torn at all. At least until he commits a major mistake later on and feels truly, horribly guilty about it, then I could truly see how he might view his Gift as a Curse.
I do like the idea of werewolf as superhero. Most werewolf stories I read focus on the primitive, animal side of the werewolf, and the joy and freedom in giving in to pure animal instinct. I like how Rice turns that on its head and turns the animal instincts almost metaphysical — werewolves retain their human intellect, but can smell evil. They, quite literally, are compelled to destroy evil and protect the innocent. In one scene, Reuben observes how another werewolf, about to kill an innocent, felt compelled to confess to this innocent first, and practically beg forgiveness — almost at a biological level, they are unable to harm good people. It’s an interesting idea, and while I personally cringed at the possibility that werewolves are actually some creatures from heaven, I like the more scientific and historical explanation eventually provided.
Rice’s vampires always struck me as incredibly sensual, and I figured the more animalistic werewolf would be even more erotic. Rice’s depiction of the initial transformation:
There was a limitless reservoir of heat inside of him, and now it broke out on the surface of his skin as if every hair follicle on his body was expanding. He’d never felt such exquisite throbbing pleasure, such raw, divine pleasure.
“Yes!” he whispered… What mattered was the wave after wave of ecstasy passing through him.
Every particle of his body was defined in these waves, the skin covering his face, his head, his hands, the muscles of his arms and legs. With every particle of himself he was breathing, breathing as he’d never breathed in his life, his whole being expanding, hardening, growing stronger and stronger by the second…
Confession: I laughed. I felt like a thirteen year old schoolgirl giggling at this passage, but I really couldn’t help it. The rest of his transformations weren’t quite so graphic, mostly limited to it just happening, or him going off alone to induce it to come. There is a love story as well, where the woman is turned on by his wolf form. Yet other than a couple of sex scenes, the romance was surprisingly less erotic than I expected. She was mostly like Mary Jane watching her superhero man go off to fight evil.
Wolf Gift offers an interesting twist to the mythos, and provides an interesting origin story, but I wish Rice had gone deeper and darker with the characters. Reuben was somewhat afraid of scientists experimenting on him, but other than a couple of scenes, I didn’t really feel the urgency. Neither did I feel that there was an actual danger of society turning against the Wolf Man, nor did I really feel Reuben’s internal moral conflict over his dual nature. I like the character of Stuart, near the end, but I really dislike the nickname Reuben gave him. Wolf Gift is entertaining, and there are hints at a richer mythology than what is in the book, which I assume Rice may well explore in a future novel. Wolf Gift mostly struck me as a superhero story, with Catholicism and a bit of sex. Not bad, but not amazing either.