Benjamin Percy’s Red Moon showed me what to do with all of my ghosts.
I’ve never been a werewolf person. Werewolves may be deadly and fraught with self-loathing, but they just aren’t creepy enough for me. They’re all action, not enough evil plotting. Then my book club chose to read Red Moon, Percy’s 9/11 werewolf book, and I went with it.
The book tore into me, and all the writing I was doing at the time. It was brutal.
I had been writing lots of ghost stories and thinking more seriously about monsters—or more corporeal weirdness. I wanted to be unsettled, and I wanted anything to be possible in the project at hand. It wasn’t working. I was adrift in the functions of these otherworldly beings, and everything I wrote was boring and a little bit unhinged.
Percy’s novel unsettled me in that perfect way. The supernatural werewolf element was quickly explained away, but Red Moon stayed eerie. The military complex and the northwest wasteland are haunting and troubling in a way that werewolves will never be. I told myself over and over again to make the strange familiar, make the familiar strange, but it didn’t really sink in until I could experience it in a literary landscape that felt so familiar and strange to me. I could see in Red Moon all the complexity and instinct that is required in the writer to make that familiar/strange relationship work at all.
Now my ghosts are less ethereal and more interested in baking.
“Refresh, Refresh” is a more compact example of his incredible dexterity navigating that relationship. It features a strange crater formed by a fallen meteor. Though we regularly return to the crater, which created (at least for me) rampant anxieties of physical harm and extraterrestrial phenomenon, this becomes our safe place, the hole down which we can throw all that is blatantly heartbreaking.
The work of Benjamin Percy has a ferocious core, a pit of fear at the gooey center twisting beneath a recognizable skin. All of which makes me appreciate the werewolf a little more.