Baring in mind that so many Amazon reviews have been written already for this compelling novel, I'm not going to set out the plot or summarize the story again, but assume that anyone reading this is already familiar with that much. Rather, these words will (I hope) provide a few new extra ponderings to add to the many dozens of imaginative and thought provoking points already made.
Let me begin by asserting that, to me, The Wolf Gift is a Yin Yang of a book - a book of deep contrasts, of immense dark and light and the interplay between them. Yet it's not dark and light in the usual sense of creating a good/bad division between hero and enemy. In this book the primary focus of the dark and light polarities exist within a single character. And, more than that, the book in fact encourages the reader to get in touch with the self-same dark and light polarity within themselves.
But more on that in a moment. First let me say this; for me The Wolf Gift was a real page turner. Excuse the pun but, from the moment I opened it metaphorical jaws I was bitten... and once bitten, then dragged helplessly into an adventure that never let me go until the very end. Rarely does a book hold me captive the way this did. It was an utterly compelling read and not simply because of the typical Anne Rice style (which, I have to say, was in top form) but because of the underlying metaphor and psychology. So, let's return to that theme of darkness, light and the human condition.
In a way I saw The Wolf Gift as an up to date Jekyll and Hyde, but whereas Jekyll (as mad scientist) determines his own fate by his quest to experiment, Reuben (our new hero) becomes what he becomes involuntarily, simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time - or, depending on your outlook, the right place at the right time! The bite and transfer of its condition is, after all, called a `Gift.' It is seen as a dark blessing, and this understanding is reinforced by the pseudo sacramental language employed. The salivary fluid that passes the gift on is called Chrism (the holy oil used in catholic rites of passage.
And here's where we're brought to our own dark and light. Anne Rice is master of re-creating age old myths and re-presenting them for a modern age. Yet she always manages to avoid the modern day tendency to clean up, water down or make pretty that we often find in other attempts to re-write the gothic horrors. However, Rice's hero in this book remains a hero even after he's taken on his personality as a Man Wolf. Rather than becoming an indiscriminate mad killer, he senses evil and destroys it. And he protects the good. Ah, I can hear you thinking, so this time she HAS sold out and done a Twilight job. This time she's made her monsters nice. I answer you NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH. And this is what's so disturbing for the reader. This is what drags us down into our own darkness. The Man Wolf is brutal and wild; a lustful beast who crunches away people's heads and gorges on their soft dripping flesh, licking up their still hot blood. Make no mistake; this monster is a monster in the real sense of the word. The only difference is that he is aware of the moral state of his victims and will only kill those whom he senses as evil. And before you know it you, the reader, begin to sympathise with this violent creature. And if you're not extremely careful, by the end of the book you find yourself joining the crowds of cheering characters who celebrate the Man Wolf with an almost religious passion, singing hymns and writing poems and even selling action figures.
Who can blame them? Who can blame you? Here's the punisher of wrongdoing and a protector of the innocent we've all craved for if we're honest; not just a tough cop who throws the child molester in jail and chucks away the key, but a lethal judge and executioner who tortures them and gives them what they deserve before ripping them to shreds.
I have to say that this makes the book extremely uncomfortable reading. And so it should.
For those, like me, who like to see ourselves as liberal, compassionate, forgiving, sane, balanced and moral, this Man Wolf begins to reveal an inner wildness, even rage that we keep locked up and under control. It's what Carl Jung referred to as the shadow.
There is also a sexual element to this shadow side too. The sexuality of the Man Wolf becomes evident when he meets his mate and, written with erotic poetry, the descriptions of love making between Man Wolf and woman are both raw and sensual, wild and delicate. And we are under no illusions that, for Reuben, sex had never been as powerful before his Wolf personality took control. And again we, the reader, begin to look deeper into our own shadow!
For Reuben, as with both Louie and Lestat, his condition demands knowledge and understanding of what he is, as well as some sort of quest to find others and even to be linked or connected to a Man Wolf genealogy. Yet, unlike his Vampire cousins, the Man Wolf seems far less depressed about his condition than them. For Reuben the Wolf Gift is not the curse that the Dark Gift is for Louie et al. And, over the course of his adventure he gradually learns to gain some control and even perspective, seeing it perhaps as more than just a gift for him. But we never really get to the bottom of whether the Wolf Gift is a gift for the world or not. Like Fr. Jim, the hero's Catholic Priest brother, I (also a priest) hold that violence can never be adequately dealt with by more violence. Yet, I do hold that understanding and embracing the shadow within us is of the utmost importance for living healthy and balanced lives. As we all know only too well, when you imprison something and bury it deep down in the unconscious, it only becomes stronger and will - in the end - break free. When my own tradition (Christianity) bangs on about `living in the light,' claiming that God cannot look upon darkness, and that we must abstain, deny and (pushed to an extreme) even punish our own flesh, we only create bigger demons. I've learned from my Pagan friends, that a healthy dose of Yin and Yang, of light and dark, makes for a more grounded and far less destructive personality.
So, finally, that's what I feel the new monster from Anne Rice gives us. A metaphor for what lies deep down within us all. She offers no answers, and how can she? The question is for each of us to ask independently and of ourselves; what /who is this shadow within me? How do I tame it, embrace it, use it for wholeness and balance rather than destruction?