The Wolf Gift

The Wolf Gift - Anne Rice Reuben Golding- a handsome, well-bred, twenty-something rising journalist at the SF Observer- is doing a story on the sale of a local mansion that possesses both quite a history and a touch of mystery. His meeting with it's owner, Marchent, ends tragically as a burglary leaves her dead and Reuben gravely wounded, only to be saved by the intervention of a mysterious, feral creature. His miraculously fast recovery and subsequent physical changes baffles his doctors and starts Reuben wondering at what's happening to him. Faced with the improbable, yet inescapable conclusion he begins his search for the identity of his 'savior' even as he revels in his new abilities, aware that the one who did this to him is probably watching his every move. Little does he realize that he's attracted the attention of other interested parties and they're planning a few moves of their own.

So... ever wondered what would happen if someone from the Hamptons or Martha's Vineyard got bitten by a werewolf? Look no further than this book: Anne Rice brings you the adventures of a member of Marin County's upper crust as he comes to terms with his situation. In fact, everyone involved with the mystery of Wolf Gift is either a social elite, a highly accomplished professional or otherwise destined for greatness- not a plumber or an insurance salesman in the bunch. But then there's no alpha-male posturing, no wild couplings with female pack members under the full moon... this one's all about the journey of discovering what it means to be a werewolf- physically, spiritually and morally. Rice takes an intriguing approach with the story: it's all about the evolution of the species- not a hint of mysticism or magic to be found. Darwin and Nietzsche might enjoy what lies within these pages.

The problem is that she falls tragically short with fulfilling the premise. It gets off to a very slow, plodding start; there's way too much exposition and info-dumping to set up the story- literally four chapters of it. After those I was convinced that if it wasn't for her name, this book wouldn't have been published- I actually put it down for a few days before giving it another shot. It picks up after Reuben is attacked and begins to note what's happening to him yet the story never peaks or reaches a pitch, instead pretty much staying at an even keel the whole time.

There's a lot of the same kind of wish fulfillment here that permeates the UF genre, and in many ways it's worse. Reuben not only retains his intellect and moral compass when shifted but discovers some intriguing abilities and uses them to engage in some Batman-esque vigilantism, ripping his way through muggers, rapists and murderers, even single-handedly solving a kidnapping and becoming a media sensation in the process- a superhero of sorts. Which, as the story unfolds, ends up working in his favor.

There's also the Anne Rice staples of shoehorning in questions and dilemmas about how religion- specifically Catholicism- fits the scheme of things. And let's not forget the standard gay character who by dint of his homosexuality makes him a true mensch, granting him worthiness of being let in on the secret. The question of werewolves being eligible for absolution is an interesting one, but in light of Rice's public stances on religion it all rings kind of hollow.

The writing was drawn out, long-winded, overbearing and often dull- another victim of the dreaded 'no-edit clause', the bane of publishing. Aside from the introductory chapters, a good example of this is the meeting between Reuben and a senior werewolf, which is clunky at best. In the presence of their lawyers they face each other as humans to discuss some werewolf business, engaging in a coded,clumsy conversation that not only repeats information several times but those listening in would have to be pretty dense not to realize what they were talking about. Another is in the denouement where the last six chapters are crammed what's supposed to be an explosive climax before winding down into the exposition of all the answers about the origins, trials and presumed higher purpose of the Wolf Gift itself. But it really doesn't; more questions than answers are raised by this confrontation, plus it all wraps up with a sequence that can only be described as the League of Extraordinary Werewolves.

Wolf Gift gets a lot of props for breathing some life into the old classic, but feels trite and preachy at times and is sorely in need of some paring down. Even so, it's good enough to get you through a few dark and stormy nights.