The Pack is a werewolf thriller imported from US writer Jason Starr, better known for his crime fiction. I feel it will be difficult to say anything very conclusive about The Pack, mostly because I realize about half way through that it really wasn’t my cup of tea. Now, I’ve not shied away from reading outside my comfort zone in the past, in fact I’ve often enjoyed exploring new literary venues, but still The Pack really wasn’t for me. I can see what Starr was going for with this book, but for a genre fan like me, his half-hearted attempt to blend mythological elements with a thriller plot-format came out thoroughly muddled - a creaky amalgamation of genres which has difficulty holding itself together.
When Simon Burns is fired from his job without warning, he takes on the role of stay-at-home dad for his three-year-old son. But his reluctance pushes his already strained marriage to the limit. In the nestled playgrounds of the Upper West Side, Simon harbors a simmering rage at his boss’s betrayal.The Pack kicks off essentially with Simon getting fired from his job. Initially, the commonality of the plot, of Simon and Alison’s marital and financial troubles is refreshing from the point of view of a genre fan. For me it evoked the tropes of the French ‘genre fantastique’ which unlike it’s anglophone counterpart has a very well defined structure. The first stages of any ‘histoire fantastique’ are grounded in reality, then slowly but surely subtle fantastical elements are woven in until the story suddenly ‘bascule’ (literally ‘tips’ or ‘tumbles’) into darker fantasy territory, almost more reminiscent of horror. From the way the novel kicked off, this is exactly what I was expecting to occur in The Pack. But it didn’t.
Things take a turn when he meets a tight-knit trio of dads at the playground. They are different from other men Simon has met, stronger and more confident, more at ease with the darker side of life - and soon Simon is lured into their mix. But after a guys’ night out gets frighteningly out of hand, Simon feels himself sliding into a new nightmarish reality.
As he experiences disturbing changes in the his body and his perceptions, he starts to suspect that when the guys welcomed him to their ‘pack,’ they were talking about much more than male bonding...
Unfortunately, Starr kept the novel buried in the everyday cycle of Simon’s life. Genre elements (you know, the werewolf bits...) were thrown in haphazardly, with little fleshing out, and only very superlative and repetitive attempts to make them relevant to the plot. Basically, it appears Starr’s main reason for having lycanthropic elements to the plot was so his characters could have more sex. Lot’s and lot’s of sex. Because apparently being a werewolf makes you horny - both literally and figuratively - and makes away with any sort of moral integrity you may possess. To the male characters in The Pack, women are downgraded to ‘things you use to make those annoying boners go away.’
Starr’s depiction of interpersonal relationships is frightening. Not only are the men incapable of treating women as anything other than animals sexually, the women are disturbingly submissive. Because apparently it’s also cool to be raped by a man-wolf in the forest. In this book, one of the phrases continually proposed to be erotic is a cold ‘Get naked.’ That should give you a measure of how horribly bad the characterization is. Throw in a weak ‘what did I do when I was a wolf’ mystery/guilt plot, and you’ve covered most aspects of The Pack.
Still, I can’t help but feel that some people might actually enjoy this book. I can definitely think of someone people who might get a kick. I’m thinking here the older, male counterparts to all those Twilight-crazed teenage girls. Despite my limitations towards the quality of the narrative, Starr still managed to keep me reading, so there’s something to say about his talent for keeping a reader hooked. Also, I’m just not much interested in the troubles of a middle-aged man, but looking at any sort of demographics statistics tells me quite a few people would probably be able to relate.
So at the end of the day, for any true genres fans (that probably means most of you loyal readers of this blog), I would recommend you pass. If by some lucky Google search you landed on this page and don’t fit in the previous category but rather enjoy a decent thriller, some werewolf-action to spice things up, and a pinch (ok, more than a pinch) or gratuitous sex, then The Pack may just be for you. Apparently movie rights have been sold, and Starr is busy writing a sequel, but for my part I think I’ll pass on any more from Simon and the gang.
Jason Starr's Website: http://www.jasonstarr.com/
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