Review: 'Mongrels' by Stephen Graham Jones

Mongrels_cover-678x1024Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones
William Morrow (May 2016)
320 pages; $19.39 hardcover; $12.99 e-book
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand

The werewolves of Mongrels roam the South like a pack of feral dogs, surviving on the very instincts and abilities that often work directly against them. They live in ratty trailers, work an endless parade of menial jobs, subsist on road kill and strawberry wine coolers. They sneak into town under assumed names and sneak out under the cover of night when things go bad. And they always go bad.

Werewolves are rarely portrayed in anything resembling a favorable light, and author Stephen Graham Jones does not stray from that trend. Nor does he stray from many mainstays of werewolf lore—silver is still poison; the transformations are painful and grotesque (moreso in Mongrels than in any other piece of werewolf fiction I’ve encountered); and, yes, there is howling. It’s a tough existence, and Jones does not pull punches as he takes us into the lives of a small family of werewolves—an aunt, an uncle, and their nephew, a young unnamed boy who doesn’t yet know if the werewolf “gift” has been passed along to him. He sees first-hand the way their kind must scratch and claw to survive, and yet he still eagerly awaits his own, special coming of age.

Jones structures his book to mirror the lives of this family, as the narrative bounces around, sometimes in jarring fashion. We go back and forth in time, too, but it all comes together and works as a cohesive, if episodic, novel. The characters are compelling: Uncle Darren, bold, reckless, sometimes careless, embodies the wild side of his kind; Aunt Libby is the melancholy, sometimes mournful voice of reason and reality. Balanced between these two is their nephew, frightened of the life he’s been born into, hopeful that he’ll soon find his place within it.

In Mongrels, Jones elevates the werewolf sub-genre by stripping it down to its dirty roots. It embraces horror but isn’t bound by it—it’s Southern noir, and even somewhat autobiographical (as Jones recently discussed with author and Cemetery Dance Online columnist Adam Cesare). But honestly, I’m not much of a label guy; if it’s good, I’ll read it, and Mongrels is good, so you should read it, too.

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