Benjamin Percy was born in the high desert of Central Oregon. He is the author of two novels, Red Moon and The Wilding, as well as a book of stories, Refresh, Refresh.
". . .a terrifically hairy werewolf novel."
"If George Orwell had imagined a future where the werewolf population had grown to the degree that they were colonized and drugged, this terrifying novel might be it."
"Extraordinary. . . . An ambitious, epic novel. . . . Holds a mirror up to contemporary America to reflect its fears and biases."
I think it is only fair before I start talking about Red Moon by Benjamin Percy to say that I don’t normally much care for werewolves. I’m not as sick of them as I am vampires by any means, but I still don’t dig them. I think too readily of the role playing game Werewolf: The Apocalypse, which makes me think too much of the affiliated role playing game Vampire: The Masquerade, which in turn makes me think about vampires. I am utterly sick of vampires (zombies kind of bore me at this point as well). However, against all expectations, I really got into Red Moon.
I’ve heard people discuss Red Moon as literary horror, but I’m not too comfortable with that. I don’t know a lot about horror fiction, but I wasn’t really terrified as I read. I was enthralled, and I was certainly on the edge of my seat sometimes:
He unbuckles his seat belt and opens his mouth — ready to finally excuse himself, to stand — when a ragged snarl comes from the back of the cabin. It is hard to place, with the shout of the engines, the chatter of so many voices. Patrick wonders if there is something wrong with the plane. He remembers seeing a news report about how so many places are behind on their maintenance schedules and shouldn’t be in the air at all. Maybe the turbulence has shaken loose the screws holding the tail in place.
There is a growl, a long, drawn-out guttural rumbling, and though it is hard to place, it seems more animal than machine. The cabin is now hushed except for the creaking of seats as people turn around with anxious expressions.
Then the bathroom door crashes open.
A bald man in a Rose Bowl sweatshirt is the first in line for the restroom — and so he is the first to die. The door jars him back. He would have fallen except for the narrow hallway where he stands, the wall catching him and preventing any further retreat as the thing emerges from the restroom, rushing forward like a gray wraith, a blurred mass of hair and muscle and claws. It swings an arm. The bald man’s scream is cut short, his throat excised and replaced by a second red mouth that be brings his hands to, as if he could hold the blood in place. But it sprays between his fingers. As if to make up for his sudden silence, the rest of the passengers begin to scream, all of their voices coming together like a siren that rises and falls.
The thing begins to move up the aisle.
However, as I said, I was not scared.
Mind you, I think my reaction might have been different if I’d listened to the audio version instead of reading print. I attended a reading Benjamin Percy gave for this book and I don’t know if it was his baritone-movie-trailer-announcer voice or simply the intense emotion with which he read, but I responded to the same scenes differently than when I read myself. I think the audio version of this book might scare the crap out of me.
Regardless, the aspect that did unsettle me as I read the print version was how easily I could see something like this happening in this country. Not werewolves of course, but something else could easily be substituted (terrorists, to make an example explicit) and it all could become real.
To give some background, a disease related to a misfolded protein crosses over from wolves to humans that (in brief) can cause people to transform into enraged werewolves. Most control themselves, but some do attack. Approximately five percent of the population is infected, and many of the uninfected live in fear. People want protection. In response, the government tracks the infected, mandatorily drugging them, and restricts their rights. Many of the infected bristle against their oppression, but many of the uninfected demand the oppression go further. The situation is dark and precariously balanced, the human need to be safe pitted against how much humanity may need to be given up in order to be safe. As one can imagine, this is a situation that can only explode:
He explains what this means. With the new year, all IDs will note lycan status. The lycan no-fly will remain in effect indefinitely. A database, accessible to anyone online, will list every registered lycan, along with their addresses and photos. Anti-discrimination laws will be lifted: it will be legal for a business to deny service and employment to a lycan, because the government has determined that, in light of recent and repeated attacks, lobos is now a level-one public and safety threat.
This is the gateway, Reprobus says, to impoverishment, to ridicule, to attacks. The gateway to vaccinations proposed by the idiotic cowboy running for president.
“I refuse to bear it. That might mean a fine or that might mean imprisonment. That might mean my job. I don’t know. I don’t care. When I was your age, I made a lot of noise. I have noticed your generation doesn’t make much noise. I find you disgustingly polite. I would encourage you to take to the streets. I would encourage you to be rude and obnoxious. Make yourself heard. Howl.”
People motivated by a cause who believe so strongly that any means are justified and other people who think public safety is worth going to any extreme (Notice how similar those are?). Meanwhile, the struggle between the poles shatters the whole . . . including all those in the middle.
Is Red Moon an allegory wrapped up in wolf’s clothing? Is it werewolf fiction with sociopolitical implications? Frankly, I’m not entirely sure how to separate these aspects and classify it all. However, the book entertained me at the same time that it disturbed me. There was fancy, but there was gravity to the words that went beyond mere entertainment. Then again, maybe the two shouldn’t be separated. Perhaps Red Moon has the same sort of dual and indivisible nature as the human/wolves that live within its pages.