Tag Archives: Bruce Springsteen

Mongrels

Growing up is hard work, hard enough for the “normal” kids who live in a stalwart house, planted atop a hill or the end of a cul-de-sac. Hard enough for the ones with both parents and them working good jobs that pay plenty of money to pay the bills up and keep the pantry and bellies filled. Hard enough for the ones that are doted upon, loved and lauded.

The kids who have different scenarios to navigate…well, they have it harder. Mongrels is a story about growing up and werewolves. The copy wants you to think it’s about growing up werewolf and maybe it is. But the thick and wooly of it is growing up and out or down and inward. Sometimes both.

Mongrels is about a boy, never named and often known by the profession he thinks he wants to ascend to at that moment. He was born different, into a family of werewolves. After being buoyed by the wild and sometimes frightening tales his grandfather told him, his family loses him. This event leaves a stamp of uncertainty and loss on the boy as he embarks on a series of adventurous disasters living with his Uncle Darren and Aunt Libby, as they bounce from small town to small town, usually in the dead of night, just to survive a few more days. There are those who are after them, some know what they are, others do not. The space they occupy doesn’t often put them in touch with the nicest of people. During it all, he is anxiously awaiting his first shot at transformation. He watches most of the events cloaked in human guise and therefore anchored to both sides of their existence.

Mongrels crawls along, sometimes jumping and running at full feral abandon, its steps are sure and strong. From seedy trailer parks and ramshackle dwellings, part-time jobs and petty theft, werewolf fights and violence, the boy’s world is a world of wonder and heartache, a world of longing and questions. Will he grow to be a werewolf like his family or is he an outcast? All seems to swell and swirl as the running seems to get them closer and closer to nowhere and the change they are hoping for, but will it be the change they all really want and need?

Stephen Graham Jones has a knack for writing honest and with great open feeling. His wonderful prose takes the hobbled hope and prideful innocence of this young boy and allows it to walk all over you. Leave marks for you to pour over as runes. It’s an almost quiet tale a lot of the time, the action is that of a heart cracking to let all the sadness trickle free or a face slipping from smile to sneer and back again. It is recollection draped in oil-stained denim and sweat. It is Springsteen or Marty Robbins drifting on a night breeze from the window of a battered Trans-Am. It can be all of those things and so much more. The story takes you to a place we’ve all been, steps we’ve all made, but also to spaces never seen, never set upon by human or beast. Mongrels is as honest a thing as you’re likely to read. And it’s one of the best things I’ve read in a while.

Mongrels is available through Harper Collins, which means any decent bookstore anywhere ought to have it. So you have no excuse for not buying it.

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Welcome to the Graveyard and Other Stories

I have long enjoyed the short fiction of Mark Allan Gunnells. I like his longer stuff as well, but I think the short story is where he shines. And why it shines is his attention to detail in character, in his taking everyday situations and incorporating a sense of oddness or unease and, at times, whimsy.

Welcome to the Graveyard is his newest collection and it’s pretty damn good. After a glowing introduction by John R. Little, “Dancing in the Dark” leads off with a sure foot. Named for one of Bruce Springsteen’s most annoying songs, this story follows a young man who feels that song is his bad luck theme and tries to avoid hearing it at all costs. “After” would be a humorous little tidbit were it not for the dark bitterness of the finale, a great smack to the face. “The Napkins” is a story that is so much deeper and nastier than it seems, and it takes the final paragraph to burn it into your brain.

“What Little Boys Are Made Of” reminds me a bit of the classic Charles Beaumont story “Miss Gentilbelle,” a version yanked violently by the hair through the last forty years and screaming and plant it firmly in the now. And it’s just as jarring when we get to the final punch. This one will stick with you.

Many of these tales are quite short, flash pieces. I was lucky enough to see a number of them as entries in flash contests and I love that he’s polished them up and served them here. One of the best is “A Midnight Errand.” Running about a page and half, this thing packs more emotion into its leanness than most novels.

The collection finishes with the title story, a tremendous tale of youth and the painful transition to adulthood, wading through the rapids of peer pressure, bullies, and self-loathing. It’s about finding the ghosts and standing up to them even when one of them is you. A great story.

Gunnells can always be relied upon to deliver the goods. His stories are sharp and I can say it’s been fun to watch him grow as a writer over the years. His prose is smooth and easy and his characters are believable. He wears his influences proudly and yet has his own identity showing through.

Welcome To The Graveyard is available through Evil Jester Press.

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