We all want success. We all want to be known for something great. We all yearn for that bright, hot spotlight to find us and not burn us to death on contact. Yet what we so often fail to visualize is the afterthought that we could become someday. Once we are known, we want to stay known, and there’s the deep, dark habit that gets formed.
It’s the pressure to keep cranking out good material, keep being relevant and adding something to the conversation at dinner tables and in living rooms all over the country. That’s a lot of pressure, sometimes more than we can even imagine and maybe, just maybe that’s what went wrong here in the new novel by legendary author Anne Rice, The Wolf Gift.
The story is centred on a young affluent reporter named Reuben, who finds himself the unwitting new entrant in a tale yanked from the legends of monster movies and dark forests from way, way back. Bitten by a werewolf, it’s only after he changes into one himself does he believe his old children’s books to be real.
Then, with his acceptance driven not only by his keen intellect, but also by the voices of the innocent he hears crying out to him, Reuben ventures back through the books and tales to try and find an answer to what he is now. Monster? Man? The best of both or the worst in all of us?
The Wolf Gift unwraps the central theme in the lush, vibrant environments we’ve come to know and expect from Rice. Her depictions of New Orleans in the Vampire series were picture perfect, details of each room and setting were rich and succulent to the point of dripping off the page. This new monster tale is no different in that regard and the skill for it is as sharp as ever.
The problem is the fit. That richness feels oddly foreign for these modern day characters, even if they are all coming from the upper crust of San Francisco society. Even their manner of speaking, the conversational moments felt stilted and melodramatic. The silky turns of phrase and overly intelligent bite that came from iconic characters like Louie and Lestat felt tight and unwieldy from our reluctant hero Reuben and his surrounding family. Only later in the book, as history begins to reveal itself, are there people who functionally fit into the tone of the book.
I’m a long-time fan of Rice and I was eager to read this new turn of her writing, after devouring the Vampire books and the Witching series so long ago. To this day I think Memnoch the Devil is a seminal work (only behind Vampire Lestat), so admittedly it’s possible my bar is unreasonably high, but this new outing felt more like a reflection of earlier works as viewed through the warped, old glass in those beautiful Victorian houses in the Garden District. The world outside has changed too much and I ended up feeling like half the book was stuck out of time.
There are moments of connection, stretches of excitement and momentum, but then the book slows to an unnecessary crawl, lurching forward far past the point when everything has been laid out before you. It answers its own questions far too early and leaves little reason to turn the pages until the back cover finally comes into view.