What if your best friend called you up right now and told you that, at midnight tonight, they were going to become a werewolf, and needed you to stop them? What would you do? Most of us sane people would call 911 to report that our friend had finally seen one too many movies. But the latest novel from Fangoria Presents, Carnivorous Lunar Activities, looks at how it might go if you tried to talk to said friend, and it isn’t pretty…
…Having read author Preston Fassel’s novel, Our Lady of the Inferno, I’m already obsessed with the Fangoria Presents line of books, and Carnivorous Lunar Activities by Max Booth iii continues the trend of what I believe is going to be a fantastic line of horror novels for years to come. In Carnivorous Lunar Activities (which I’ll refer to as CLA), we’re introduced to Ted, a guy struggling with the fact that his wife may be about to divorce him. Two seconds away from barging into his wife’s mother’s house and doing God knows what to them, Ted receives a call from his buddy, Justin, begging for his help. Once Ted arrives, he discovers that not only does Justin look like he was hit by a damn freight train, but he also believes he is a werewolf, and wants Ted to put a bullet in his heart come midnight. And thus begins one of the most personal werewolf novels I have ever read.
I fucking love werewolves. They’re my favorite monster. Hell, I once got the owner of an apartment fined for shouting about the brilliance of The Howling. Though the mythos changes from story to story, the powerful core theme of a werewolf always draws me in, which is that these beasts, for better or worse, are the physical interpretations of our rage and hunger for something more out of life. These stories are violent, frightening, and almost always tragic, because unlike other monsters, the werewolf bite is a “curse”, a disease which causes us to hurt the ones we care about. But for some damn reason, werewolf films aren’t popular, and countless storytellers tend to get them wrong. The problem is, writers have had a hard time finding ways to tell these stories in fresh and exciting ways. Though CLA will have you imagining some rancid stenches, this novel is the sort of fresh and exciting the werewolf genre needs. CLA brilliantly captures the themes of your average werewolf story and packs them into a confined space for an emotional story that digs its claws in and never lets go.
Booth tells a story like a drunk at a bar. In the same way that Ted reacts to Justin’s tale, we sit back with a drink in hand and listen as Booth mumbles about werewolves with a slurred, raunchy voice. And what initially begins as a drunk’s funny quips about relationships and monsters eventually becomes a full-on horror story that will leave your jaw agape by the time your new friend Max pays his tab and bids you farewell, leaving you wondering why the fuck he would leave you like this. Like Interview with A Vampire, but with a lot more dick jokes, CLA starts as a conversation between two people. At only 140 pages, CLA mostly plays out in “real time” as Justin blabs on to a somewhat amused Ted about how he became a werewolf, which Ted of course doesn’t believe one bit. These guys were once best friends, so this leads to a great deal of humor as Ted and Justin joke around about the situation, which is pretty hilarious from an outsider’s perspective, considering Ted is casually chatting with a shirtless Justin handcuffed to an anchor in his basement. The set-up gives CLA a warm, cozy vibe, which is exactly what Booth wants, because it leaves the reader vulnerable to the real horror once the shit hits the full moon.
Nothing can prepare you for Booth’s cruel though entertaining sharp left turn into terror. Ted and Justin are such great drinking buddies to have that we don’t expect the author would, gulp, actually let anything bad happen to them, right? Wrong. Booth’s novel will rip out your heart, scarf it down, and shit it out like a steaming werewolf turd. Friendship is everything in CLA. You wouldn’t think you would grow to care for a guy who we meet on the brink of murder like Ted, or a guy who picks his nose and flicks boogers across the room like Justin, but these two have a genuine relationship that, again, makes us feel as if we are right there in the room with them sharing a beer. These guys are REAL, like friends we’re getting reacquainted with. They insult each other. They get personal with each other. And they love each other, even though they’re terrible friends. Ted abandoned Justin to rot in the bad part of town, and Justin has invited Ted into the bloody mess that is his current life. But that’s what makes CLA so different from your average werewolf story. This is a down to earth werewolf novel which looks at the mythos from the humorous point of view of two friends who aren’t ready to deal with the trouble they’re in. CLA is the most human take on werewolves that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.
But as we’ve probably all experienced, the drunks at the bar can get a little obnoxious. And in this case, Booth, the “bartender”, isn’t threatening to kick anyone out like the baseball bat wielding bartender in Silver Bullet. Ted can’t help sarcastically interrupting Justin’s story just as it’s getting good, which makes Justin forget what he was saying and go on tangents. The pacing in CLA often finds itself bogged down. Like that feeling when you’ve had too much to drink but have to carry your ass to the waiting Lyft driver down the block. Justin takes forever to get to the point of his story, dragging us to the end, which may have some readers frothing at the mouth impatiently, but it’s the journey that makes it worthwhile. This isn’t Dog Soldiers. There aren’t limbs flying and claws ripping on every page. Booth treats CLA more like a Hitchcockian werewolf story, similar to Rope, in which we are waiting for something to be revealed, the way Ted and Justin are waiting for midnight to strike. As the reader, we are sure there’s a bomb ticking away somewhere. Tick tock, tick tock. But Booth is a clever storyteller, and has a way of making us question whether or not that “bomb” will ever explode. Is Justin a werewolf, or is he crazy? We don’t know, but when that bomb does go off with a shocking twist that you won’t see coming, it’s powerful enough to knock you to the floor and make you howl in excitement. Patience is well rewarded in CLA.
If I have one thing in common with Booth, it’s our infatuation with the film, An American Werewolf in London. Both Justin and Ted consider the night they brought over two girls to watch the film and get laid for the first time the best night of their lives. Just like American Werewolf, CLA masterfully mixes comedy with a generous helping of blood, guts and terror. While the two stories are not at all the same, Booth’s novel follows a similar structure, in that we are lead along to have a good time, share some laughs, take a couple shots of whiskey, and enjoy ourselves. But Booth’s story, unlike poor David in American Werewolf, seamlessly transforms into a tragedy with real bite and a ton of unexpected carnage. Booth has taken the essence of what made An American Werewolf in London a classic and captured it in the form of a short, funny, horrifying, bittersweet novel that werewolf fans will adore. Just don’t forget to have a six-pack of Blue Moon to wash the trauma away after you turn that last page.
Carnivorous Lunar Activities releases from Fangoria Presents on February 22nd.
By Matt Konopka