Monday, October 10, 2022

Review: Wolf at the Door by Joel McKay

If you're dreading how you're going to survive Thanksgiving, at least you're not running for your life

There's danger in hosting a big social gathering. People you haven't seen in years can still make your throat tighten. Various combinations of acquaintances can be in good terms with you but be mortal enemies to each other. You dread the thought of who may knock at the door next. Your pulse quickens and your survival instinct rings alarms urging you to flee. Once the tension reaches critical mass, too much honesty will rip someone's heart. The exchange of bitter words becomes a series of rounds of mutual eviscerations. Arguments get heated until someone loses their head. A friend's careless remark under too much alcohol may lead to you never seeing them again. At any moment, the air can get so heavy that some of those present will suddenly depart from your life.

In Wolf at the Door, by Canadian author Joel McKay, these emotions that tear people to pieces are materialized into tooth and claw. During the Thanksgiving dinner at the Deerborn home, after unpleasant secrets are exposed and lifelong resentments erupt, the night becomes carnage: throats are grabbed, hearts are ripped, guts are scattered, heads are severed, friendships are abruptly ended. After reading this quick novella, you'll never again lament that your Thanksgiving was the worst ever.

In a recent interview, the author explained that the concept behind the book was sparked by the anxiety of COVID quarantine, which kept us barricaded in our houses because what awaited us outside was death. So Wolf at the Door is an interesting case of intense feelings sublimated into art. In cases like this, the author exorcizes his fears by giving them a name and a face and then allowing the rest of us a vicarious triumph when the monster is slayed.

However, beyond the gimmick, the book doesn't have much else to offer. The violence is described with gusto, so if you enjoy stories where blood splatters on everyone's face, and body parts are munched with a loud crack, this book will carry you through October (and November, if you do Thanksgiving the American way). On the more technical side, the book has problems. The narration jumps between all perspectives from one chapter to the next, which in itself isn't something wrong, but when you have a cast of a dozen characters and little space to introduce them, the lack of a cohesive thread makes it confusing to try to remember whose uncle's sister-in-law's best friend's husband is mad at whom.

Wolf at the Door knows one trick, and it does it well enough. If you need to tune out while your relatives bicker at the dinner table, this grisly tale will take your head somewhere a lot less boring.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 6/10.

Penalties: −1 for a confusing start. It gets better in the second half, where fewer characters remain alive and therefore the reader doesn't have to make so much effort to remember all the names.

Nerd Coefficient: 5/10.

POSTED BY: Arturo Serrano, multiclass Trekkie/Whovian/Moonie/Miraculer, accumulating experience points for still more obsessions.

Reference: McKay, Joel. Wolf at the Door [Birchwood Press, 2022].