One more wolf post before I change subjects! One of our fiction editors gave me a copy of S.P. Somtow's Moon Dance (1989), and it is a terrific read. It is a rarity - a tale told with both beauty and poetry for the heart and mind, and adrenaline and pulse-pounding excitement for the blood. It is great to find both in one book. If you want to watch a talented writer examine the clash of cultures or the psychology of alienation or the tragedy of extinction, or if you want to know what happened when European werewolves immigrated to the Americas and ran into their indigenous counterparts among the Sioux on this continent, or if you are just a lover of a chilling and well-told story, check this one out. Somtow understands his werewolf lore very well, and digs deep into what has made that lore so compelling to generation after generation of storytellers and wide-eyed listeners. He also tells his story with quirky and believable characters, and with a great deal of pathos. I give you a long excerpt here, because I cannot resist doing so:
1880 - Dakota Territory - half-moon, waxing
"Snow. Snow streaming down since the onset of night. Snow heaped up against the tent flaps, whipped up by the wind, seeping through the places in the walls where the hides have worn thin. Snow piling on the treetops outside and bending the branches to breaking. Snow on the ground packed hard, stubborn snow. Snow caking on the buffalo robes, not melting. Snow hanging in the air even beside the dying embers of the fire. Snow on your clothes and your hair and even your eyebrows, my son. Are you surprised, my son, that this winter the snow has crept inside me, and turned my old woman's heart to ice?"
He did not answer her but continued to squat cross-legged on the buffalo robe. Perhaps he was listening to the wind. Was he awake, even? But his eyes were open.
"It is time for me to go out into the snow, my son. There is only enough pemmican for you and your wives and their children. You will slaughter the dogs one by one to fill the hunger from moon to moon. The time has come. The wind whistles and whines, and sometimes I think I hear my name. Do not be sad. I know that is why you will not speak to me. You also hear my name on the wind, my son. Is it not so?"
He still would not look at her. She studied him. His hair was almost as gray as her own; here and there it was flecked with snow. In the shadow, away from the fire, a baby cried; she heard a young girl's soothing voice and did not know which of her son's wives it was, for her ears were failing her. She knew it was from deep reverence that he did not speak to her directly; whenever he did it was always with the politest of speech forms. She wished it were not so now. The cold had burned its way into her bones. She could feel them creaking. Her bones were like flutes through which the winter wind whistled.
"The hardest thing of all, my son..." She paused. He looked up at last. He is clenching back some terrible emotion, she thought. I must not shame him. "I can no longer change. Do you understand? I have lost the gift."
There, I will pause. Let that excerpt be our gift to you on the blog tonight, though it is really Somtow's gift. I am only fifty pages into the book, but it has such promise. Here is a writer whose craft is honed like a fine tool, who can keep you up during the night gasping for breath, and who always knows exactly what he is doing with the stories he is reworking. I must leave this post and get back to that book.