The Wild Hardcover – Import, January 1, 1991
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Nope, you don’t have furry man-beasts sniffing out human flesh here, folks. You also don’t have a constantly shifting creature raging against his inner impulses; there’s no moon watching here, no silver bullets to be dodged, and no strange herbs to devour to fend off any curses.
Characters are interesting and unique. It's not often you read about a protagonist who can't make it well in the real world. I loved this sense of realism!
Strieber writes with a heavy hand at times, spinning out colorful phrases. His wording is intriguing, his style serious. He does inject humor in the story when it’s needed, a type of irony, but does so in a way that seems to come naturally. At first his style was a bit hard for me to get into, but pretty soon I was wrapped up and began looking forward to it.
The wild, not your typical horror novel, one that devotes itself mainly to change, human nature, and acceptance, reads like a dark drama. It’s not a werewolf story per se, so don’t go in expecting this to be unleashed, but it’s a satisfying one nonetheless. For a change we needed a different bite of wolf in our horror; this may be what some have been waiting for.
Verdict: Probably the most convincing werewolf novel I've ever encountered - he really gets inside the skin of the animal ...
"If only he could talk! 'This is all so silly,' he would say. 'I'm about the least offensive person you could meet.'" (p. 205, TOR ed.) If The Wild is a horror novel, the horror is learning how truly helpless and terrified one would be, trapped, fully aware, in an animal's form. Bob can't talk or write, his hands are now unmanipulative paws, and virtually anyone who sees him tries to kill him. His plight is described with the poignancy of Olaf Stapledon's bucolic novel Sirius, but the pursuit of Bob Duke races along with the frenzy of a Jackie Chan movie.
Bob Duke, used to pate de foie gras and caviar, must eat diseased rats and Drano-soaked garbage. He fights dogs, wolves, a child-rapist, and an extremely unfriendly bear. He nearly drowns, freezes, and starves in the woods. Meanwhile, wife Cindy and son Kevin search for him, aided by a tired old Native American shaman and a Dana-Scully-type psychiatrist. I have read many stories of shape-shifters; such characters usually are loners from the start. (In Andre Norton novels like The Jargoon Pard, for instance, the heroes are outsiders, nearly friendless if not actually hated by their peers.) In The Wild, Bob Duke's family suffers almost as much anguish and pain as Bob himself, and their life on the run is as hellish as his. This is an obvious course to take but one I don't remember reading in a lycanthropy novel before.
What I have read often enough is that the animal's spirit somehow pollutes the human soul -- intelligence fades, he/she becomes bloodthirsty, psychotic, or downright evil. The Wild describes a perfect melding of human intelligence with wolf instinct and supernormal senses -- Bob can hunt down a deer and simultaneously feel sorry he has to kill "Bambi". "And he would die having had one of the highest of experiences: to be a raw animal, in the body of an animal, with all his human consciousness intact." (p. 304) The human mind is enhanced, not soiled, by the lupine.
There are scenes of wolf dominance-submission in The Wild that may offend some readers, and Bob Duke is such a loser as a human that some may not sympathize with him. None of this has lessened The Wild's impact on me. It became my favorite book the moment I began it, and nine years later I doubt anything will threaten its supremacy. I will simply follow it "deep into the freedom and safety of the wild." (the end)