Why in the hell is Benjamin Percy writing about werewolves, you might ask? Everyone is writing about werewolves. Why would one of America’s promising young writers do the same? Perhaps because when Percy writes about werewolves — or “lycans” as they’re referred to here — he’s really writing about xenophobia, terrorism, war, racism, reactionary politics at their worst and, most prominently, fear.
Red Moon takes place in a world almost identical to our own except that there’s something called lobos that has long infected a portion of the population. It causes them to turn into wolves, can be spread with a bite or passed down through generations, and has become as much of a cultural identity as a disease.
As with most of his fiction, Percy uses the Northwest, specifically his native Oregon, as the setting of the massive tale, but also jumps overseas to a country set up to segregate the world’s lycans. Beginning with a teenager who is the only survivor after a lycan kills everyone else aboard his flight to Portland, the novel branches out, enveloping a dozen or so other main characters to weave a complex thriller of a novel as the war against lycan extremists escalates toward apocalypse.
Percy — a prolific writer who, in addition to gaining praise for 2010’s The Wilding, has also profiled John Irving for Time and penned an essay about aging in Esquire — crafts sentences that drip with the same drool of the lycans who both terrorize and save his protagonists. Percy’s characters, none of them necessarily heroes, have a slightly underdeveloped feel to them, but the plot is busy enough to distract you from noticing.
This is not easy reading. It’s literary fiction, albeit with a menacing tone, a thrilling pace and no shortage of bloody imagery. In the end, Red Moon is no more about werewolves than Animal Farm is about pigs and horses.