New Fiction: Mongrels – Stephen Graham Jones

I loved this book, loved it to pieces. While I am not really a big fan of genre fiction per se, I do fall in with many readers these days in a fascination with genre tropes as a way of exploring more literary themes.

Mongrels is terrific “literary horror.” It’s fast-paced, funny and bloody–a satisfying genre story on its own terms. But the author is up to a whole lot more. It’s also a coming of age story as well a tale about how family stories make us who we are.

Here’s the plot: A boy is waiting to see if he will inherit his dead mother’s werewolf blood and “turn.” (Some in werewolf families don’t). In the meantime his werewolf uncle and aunt raise him. But life as a werewolf is pretty difficult. It’s hard to keep a job, it’s hard not to draw attention. So they are itinerant workers and thieves, staying on the move and under the radar, at the fringes of the “normal” (read middle class) world.

Pretty quickly the reader comes to see that aside from the great werewolf mythology and plotting, this is also a story about what it’s like to be uneducated and poor, about the fierce loyalty of families, about how an accrual of stories results in a family mythology and a sense of self. It’s really smart, really imaginative, really fun—my favorite combination.

This was a bookseller favorite in my territory. And as you’ll see from the reviews, also much admired by fellow literary writers working in genre.

 “[D]elicately portrays the coming of age of a young boy growing up in a family of werewolves. Throughout the novel, the unnamed narrator and his aunt, Libby, and uncle, Darren, both werewolves, wander the present-day American South working low-wage jobs while always wary of the dangers of staying in one place for too long and being recognized for what they really are. The narrator’s voice is heartfelt and absorbing as he learns the rules of being a werewolf while always wondering whether he will become one himself, a question that drives the story to its moving conclusion….[A] moving portrait of a family struggling to survive in a world that ‘wants us to be monsters.’”
Publishers Weekly

 A love letter to the American South…Jones’ portrayals of rural America ring true in many ways. Horror enthusiasts will also dig the graphic mythology…A Holden Caulfield analogue dropped into an old horror movie with a soundtrack by Warren Zevon.”
   — Kirkus Reviews

“Stephen Graham Jones has written a wondrous shapeshifter of a novel. Mongrels exists somewhere in the borderlands of literary and genre fiction, full of horror and humor and heart, at once a nightmarish road trip and a moving story about a broken family leashed together by their fierce love and loyalty. A bloody great read.”
— Benjamin Percy, author of Red Moon

“You know how you once wished you were a werewolf? How you stood in front of the mirror and wanted to see a transformation? Mongrels takes you by the hand, guides you down that road, finally, to that change…Stephen Graham Jones is as powerful as the monsters herein.”
— Josh Malerman, author of Bird Box

Mongrels left me speechless. Or breathless. Certainly without my dew claw. I mean, this book, it’s so smart, original, thrilling, horrifying, and human. A story about a broken family of werewolves on the run, never fitting in anywhere, trekking into the poorest parts of the southern US. And there’s that final, painful transformation, when they become your messed up werewolf family too, and you don’t ever feel poor or like a misfit. Not once.”
— Paul Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts

A werewolf hunter, a challenge from another family of werewolves, an angry mob with torches and pitchforks—[while all these horror story elements] are in Mongrels, they aren’t treated like horror.  The werewolf hunter is a sad scientist, the challenging werewolf family is all bark and no bite, and the angry mob — complete with pitchforks — was hunting Bigfoot.  Mongrels is a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of monsters, and weaved so the audience doesn’t empathize with the monster but know the monster.

“Instead of manipulating our fear, Jones wields our nostalgia and the love of our families to give his story depth.  Opening with the stories of a grandfather, Jones alternates chapters between the present and vignettes of everyday life — at least, everyday life when you’re a werewolf.  Shopping for groceries, eating at a diner, parent-teacher conferences, everything a young person experiences growing up is there, told from a werewolf’s perspective.  But the great sense of familiarity is there as well.  It isn’t so much ‘werewolves are people too’ as it is reminding us reaching maturity is a universal thing, and there is joy and pain and love and heartbreak.

“Werewolf stories inspire terror in people; but as Mongrels reminds us, inside of each werewolf is a wolf and a person.  Many horror stories only see the wolf.  Mongrels gives us the story of the person.  Not a human person, mind you, but a story that will tug your heartstrings nonetheless.”
— Dylan Tucker, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Crestview Hills, KY

“Mongrels is a great, gritty take on a classic fantasy trope. Readers will feel like they could be living next door to these fugitive werewolves, unaware of their unique problems with lupine lifespans and other innovative issues that Stephen Jones brings to light. Highly recommended!”
–Allison Chesbro, Schuler Books and Music, Okemos, MI

 “What a totally unique take on the classic werewolf coming of age story. Our storyteller provides his life experiences of growing up on the fringes of society. Poor, on the run and an outsider in his own family-we see how he is shaped into who he desperately wants to be through the stories that are passed down to him.”
— Cassie Bell, Assistant General Manager, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Lexington, KY

“On the surface, Mongrels is a werewolf coming of age story rich with werewolf lore.  And for the reader looking for a well-done, somewhat cheeky horror story, this is the book for them.  However, Jones’ novel really engages when you read it as a very insightful social satire about the plight of subcultures within a larger society….Jones has written a witty, clever, and probing novel….”
— Amanda Kothe, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati, OH

Mongrels (9780062412690) by Stephen Graham Jones.  $24.99 hardcover. 5/10/16 on sale.

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