While readers in the other 49 states certainly should enjoy Benjamin Percy's terse, wryly humorous and wonderfully suspenseful Red Moon, reading the story about werewolves and resistance movements is particularly titillating for Oregonians.
Percy was raised in Tumalo and, with precise observations, draws out both the physical and psychological landscape of the region. Aside from a few chapters set in northern Wisconsin and the Bay Area, the bulk of Red Moon—the werewolf attacks at hot springs, the teenage vigilante groups and the back-in-the-woods loners just trying to avoid all of the messiness—happens in Oregon, and primarily in Central Oregon; La Pine has never seemed so gothically romantic as when Percy pinballs his characters through the backwoods and the free-Cascadia mentality of the region.
When he describes the setting, Percy does so with deceptively simple, yet precisely detailed observations. This is Grade-A prose: "A neighborhood of Old Mountain untouched by all the new development," Percy describes, "every house on his street a one-story shoebox with a concrete-slab porch and a mature maple tree planted left of the cracked driveway. Three cars and a truck are parked out front, all Chevys. The streetlamps buzz and telephone lines crisscross the moonlit sky."
The winner of an exalted Pushcart and with nods from the likes of The Paris Review's Prize for Fiction, Percy writes in a fun, masterful style. While monster stories may seem the stuff of WB television shows and teen vampire movies, Percy inserts werewolves into the narrative in a way that triggers social commentary. Red Moon's story goes that over the past few decades, lycan (advanced werewolves) have begun to form a subpopulation within the United States. Like the X-Men or real-life ethnic groups, the lycan have been segregated, but not without a certain amount of pushback. When the book begins, a series of coordinated 9/11-like attacks down three airplanes across the country, including an SFO-PDX flight.
Percy draws on familiar, real-life terrorism attacks and links them to Lupine Resistance. There is a remote war against the lycan going on, and like the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are reported in Red Moon in a way that feels remote and unreal. Percy even uses a fictional Oregon governor—a bombastic playboy and veteran of some earlier lycan war—to adopt Tom McCall's slogan to stay out of Oregon as a battle cry to segregate humans from the lupine subpopulation, and the transmission of HIV is referenced as the AIDs epidemic.
The book traces several characters, their stories shuffled in alternating chapters. Claire, a brooding teenager, has one of the most touching stories. A mopey but sweet high school senior in rural Wisconsin, she starts the book like most of her peers, searching for colleges far from home, avoiding her parents and thinking about prom. But when government agents, led by the ominous The Tall Man, bust into her home and kill her parents, she darts off on a part teen romance/part Hunger Games genuine and profound coming-of-age tale. She struggles with her changing body (but learns to become more comfortable with the moonlit transformations), and mourns her parents' death in insightful and heartfelt sincerity.
"It has never occurred to her that her parents were anything other than NPR-listening armchair philosophers," she realizes, as she begins to learn more about their history.
Instead of being an excuse for comic book-style battles, like many of the other contemporary monster novels, Percy uses the werewolf slant to provide a sharp and insightful angle to approach substantive social and political topics.
Red Moon is a rare and deceptively complex book—a smart page-turner, full of beautiful nature writing and rife with wise political commentary and, yes, full of werewolves.
Benjamin Percy reading
2 pm, Saturday May 11
Barnes & Nobles
2690 NE Highway 20