Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones…And Some Other Stuff

So I’m going to start this one with a little blurb about the direction of the blog. Don’t worry, I’m going to get to the book, but I just want to chat at ya’ll a little first.

After the kicking that I gave Wolf Road last week, I…felt a little weird. A little of it is guilt, Beth Lewis took the time and put in the effort to create something, something that had the germ of a really good thing in it, and I love that. She did something that I’ve yet to, and maybe never will, do. And giving her shit for the mistakes that she made has left me feeling a little…guilty? Or maybe guilty is not exactly the right word, there’s some other stuff in there, but it’s certainly part of it. Another part of it, a big one, is that I don’t like being negative about things. It’s too easy, it’s the cheap way to do reviews, and, if I’m being honest, it’s just not that fun. I’m not going to take any of the posts down, they’re still true, still my opinion, and I stand behind them, but I just don’t think it’s the best use of my time (I could be napping or eating pizza or, I dunno, reading books that I enjoy). I read a lot, like a lot a lot, and I only have the time to write reviews for a small percentage of the books that I read, so why waste the time on the stuff I don’t really like? So, from this point forward I’m going to be focusing a lot more on things that I actually liked. There are still going to be criticisms (I pick things apart, even things that I like a lot. It’s just the way my brain works), but from now on most of the books that I cover are going to be ones that, at the end of it, flaws and all, I’d still recommend.

But enough about that. On to the good stuff.

This book was really, really good. I’m not usually a fan of the classic monsters (werewolves, vampires, mummies, zombies, uh…Frankensteins? I liked Frankenstein. Are there a lot of books about Frankensteins?) but I’ve always got time for a book that takes something old and well worn and offers an original angle on it.

And this novel is definitely original. Mongrels is sharper, grimier, and more human than your average monster book (or not monster book). It, like all good fantasy novels, is heavily allegorical, more about the inheritance of poverty and anger and trauma than anything else. And I know that may sound boring to some of you, but it’s really not. There’s plenty of bloody meat on this bone, enough for even the die hard smash ‘em up monster fans to sink their fangs into (was that too many cheap, hack writer-y werewolf puns? It felt like a lot). Besides, that’s what good fantasies do. By using the fantastic, the exciting, and the impossible, they exaggerate and shine a light on real human experiences. I like sword fights as much as the next guy, but you can’t prop a three hundred page novel on action alone. Mongrels used this device to better effect than I’ve seen in a long time, and I left this novel feeling not only like I’d recognized pieces of myself and my experience as an adolescent man (especially one with an absentee father figure and a less than ideal uncle that I worshiped), but some insight into a perspective and way of life that was crazy different from my own.

As a final note, I loved the empathetic, intelligent way Stephen Graham Jones treated these characters. In the hands of a lesser writer they would have ended up as caricatures. Poor, southern, can’t hold down a job, anger issues, uneducated, impulsive. But they’re more than just a collection of those traits. They’re complicated, flawed people using their understanding of the world to do their best within the bounds of their own limitations.

A great fucking read.

With the sincerest of salutations,

❤  VBR

 

*Brief Disclaimer: My dad is actually great, and in no way comparable to the completely absent father figure from the book. He just lived in a different part of the country from me when I was a kid. And my uncle, well…he’s a good person. He’s got his issues, like all of us, but he’s doing his best. It’s not his fault that I worshiped him as a child, that I created an idealized version of him in my head that had noooo chance of surviving my cynical teenage years. Anyways, I’m not sure why I felt motivated to add this in here. Maybe because people are starting to actually read this thing. Scary. ❤

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