Bookshots: 'Sometimes the Wolf' by Urban Waite
Sometimes the Wolf
Who wrote it?
Urban Waite, Seattle resident with two previous novels under his belt: The Carrion Birds and The Terror of Living. More info at his website.
Plot in a Box
Washington State lawman Bobby Drake discovers his recently released jailbird dad has a secret. The dangerous kind.
Invent a new title for this book
Be Careful Who You Make Friends With in Prison
Read this if you liked
Cormac McCarthy, Joe Lansdale, Jim Thompson. You get the picture.
Meet the book’s lead
Bobby Drake, a man with some difficult moral choices to make.
Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by
Setting: would you want to live here?
There are wolves in these woods. You would not be able to tear me away.
What was your favorite sentence?
The smell of the girl on his skin and a memory of the night before like a cruel act from his childhood he hadn’t quite forgiven himself for.
I don’t want to oversell the ‘just like McCarthy’ aspect of this book, because actually it lacks that total deadpan nihilism, that ‘life is shit and everyone you ever cared about is going to die and cold eyed killers will get away with it because that’s how it is’ schtick at which McCarthy excels. I don’t want to overplay it, because if I do, you’re going to come away from Sometimes the Wolf disappointed. This is an altogether more hopeful and redemptive read than No Country for Old Men or The Road, but it bears an important resemblance to these forebears in that it falls under the heading of what I privately (up to now at least) have dubbed Patriarchal Noir.
No, hear me out. This is not a sly feminist dig at the predominance of male lead characters in a certain type of literature. Here I use the p-word in the most respectful sense, to signify that these are all books which centre on a particular kind of relationship: the one between fathers and sons.
There are many refrains in noir literature (She’s No Good, being a particular favourite and one about which I will have more to say when I talk about Gone Girl in a future article) but As the Father, So the Son is one particular tune which has produced some of the true standouts of the genre, Sometimes the Wolf being amongst that number. At the outset of the story, Bobby Drake is trembling on the brink of marital disaster. Thrown into this mix is Patrick, his father, the ex-sheriff of the town where Bobby is now a deputy, put away for drug smuggling twelve years before and now on parole. Later, Patrick’s father Morgan enters the scene and Bobby discovers that what was intended as a legacy—and you can read that in both the financial and spiritual sense—might turn out to be a death sentence.
I don’t know why this particular corner of the human psyche should provide such rich material for noir, but it says much for Waite as a writer that, faced with these riches he uses them without ever exploiting them. He draws his distinctions quietly, carefully spacing key scenes so that we can appreciate the differences between the choices Bobby and Patrick make without ever detecting the presence of signposts. He takes the same care with his characters—even the killer duo Bean and John Wesley (think a psychotic version of Lenny and George from Of Mice and Men) are drawn with respect, if not sympathy (it’s hard to feel much sympathy for Bean). The story is bookended by two events which provide a righteous symmetry to the narrative. We begin with a deer caught on a fence, we end with an escape and, not content with this structural completeness, Waite saves one final twist for those closing sentences. If you buy this book—and I sincerely hope you do—the casual ease with which Waite tosses out that final clue, the one which lays bare all the family secrets, will have you shaking your head with admiration.
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