In Review: Red Moon
Grand Central Publishing: 2013
Reviewed by Dominique Bruno
What are we to do in this information age, with widening economic disparities, bioterrorism, and tamped-down civil liberties? It’s enough to make anyone scared. In his 2013 novel Red Moon, Percy is able to capture the heart of contemporary American anxieties, and recapitulate them through the lens of werewolves. For Percy, this is a serious business. An expansive, occasionally overwrought novel, Red Moon is still able to grant epic scope to socio-political issues in a story that is reliant on many of the markers of the thriller genre, while still offering a heady dose of literary and social commentary on what human beings fear - and how it is intrinsically linked to what we desire.
Widespread fears are best conveyed through multiple points of view (think Stephen King’s The Stand) so Percy’s narrative vacillates between a large cast of characters’ relationships with the werewolves, or “lycans;” a relationship that has existed since the seventh century. However, the foundation of the narrative is grounded in two teenagers: Claire Forrester, a lycan from a lycan family, on the run from a government operative referred to as the “Tall Man”, and Patrick Gamble, the sole survivor of a lycan massacre on an airplane. Other stories intersect with Claire and Patrick’s, but not always to the benefit of the narrative as a whole, which tends to drag in the second half as heavy descriptions of warfare and destruction leave some holes in the plot that are hard to ignore.
Percy manages to create a believable enough alternative America, with the science to back it up. Lycans are created from a contagion that works through the human bloodstream like a virus, called “lobos.” Lobos over stimulates glands in the limbic and nervous systems, which creates the “wolf” when the body is stressed. Keeping the focus on the teenager’s experiences (when our own pituitary gland is naturally going haywire) is definitely Percy’s strength. After all, there is a universal fear of human development that young adult novelists commonly tap into. Adolescents experience a world that has become more full, and consequently more dangerous and there lies the “thrill.” Patrick especially is a well-conceived character, combining a sweetness and vulnerability with his volatile powers as they develop within his body: sexual, viral, and everything in between, similar to Mark Ruffalo’s portrayal of The Incredible Hulk in the Avengers franchise.
Fear of human potentiality is at the heart of Percy’s tale, because lycanthropy is fused with issues of bioterrorism and social morality. Government forces are frightened at what humanity is capable of becoming. With one in twenty Americans infected with lobos, most lycans have been de-fanged by means of a drug called “Volpexx” which subdues their “animal” impulses, and, many lycans argue, their essential natures - which is where the radical pro-lycan group begins its’ discussion, and later, its’ rebellion. The political story culminates in an all out interspecies war, against beings that are more similar to us than different. Of course this recognition creates much of the horror for the characters. No one -- adolescent or grown-up --wants to recognize the beast within might be beyond his or her control.
Despite the allegorical heavy-handedness in many parts of the novel, Percy knows what is popular. He creates very convincing dystopian America where for the poor lycans, “transformation is forbidden” and yet, for them, it’s also a way of life (13). One need only to look for the proto-feminist message of the current obsession with Disney’s Frozen to see that human potentiality, in whatever form it might take, is always the object of fear for those who worry they lack such power. In Latin, the noun “potens/potentis” means power, and such potentiality is better rendered in the violence of a werewolf’s transformation than in the predictable story of sexual awakening in the vampire allegory. Though the end-scene(s) of the novel are not particularly new, (and reminiscent of Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games) the romance plot between wolfy teenagers has real emotional weight, which grounds the sociopolitical commentary and prevents it from running away with the plot. In Red Moon, Benjamin Percy knows what we are afraid of: we are afraid of ourselves, and what we are truly capable of. The instability of a dystopia is built on this fear, and in Red Moon, Benjamin Percy exploits it with clever aplomb.