~post by Julie W.
Earlier this year, I had the great fun of participating in the reading committee for the Summer/Fall 2015 round of the American Booksellers Association’s Indies Introduce Program. The goal of Indies Introduce is simple: highlight some of the best fiction, nonfiction and children’s books written by new and undiscovered authors each season. The selection process works a lot like a big indie bookseller book club. Publishers submit their nominees, then booksellers from various independent bookstores across the country read the books and get together via phone to talk about them. Round by round, we discussed what we loved, what we didn’t, and which books absolutely had to be on our final list. Conversations were lively. We each went to the mat for the new work we loved until we, as a group, had made our final selection.
It was while reading for Indies Introduce that I first met Rules for Werewolves, the debut novel by Austin playwright Kirk Lynn. It was mailed to my apartment door as a bound manuscript with a fat plastic spiral binding. A letter from its editor at Melville House served as its cover.Though it wasn’t one of the first books I was scheduled to read, I shucked the rules and started in right away. I’m a big fan of Melville House, an independent publisher out of New York that really has its act together when it comes to publishing a wide variety of work by classic and international authors you may have missed (see: The Neversink Library; see also: The Art of the Novella series), fresh voices (such as the perfectly titled Jeremy Bushnell novel, The Weirdness), a totally creepy frontier diary written by a teenage girl (I Await the Devil’s Coming) and important cultural documents as trade books, such as the 9/11 Commission Report and the forthcoming The U. S. Supreme Court Decision on Marriage Equality. When I saw the little blue Melville House logo, I knew to expect something unexpected and, potentially, magnificent.
I’m a picky, critical reader. It takes a lot to win me over (as my fellow Indies Introduce readers, who listened to my opinions on a variety of books, can attest). When I first read an early description of Rules for Werewolves that mentioned much of it was written in dialogue, I steeled myself for the worst.
Oh, how wrong I was.
As soon as I dove in and found myself immersed in the ongoing conversations of the squatters who comprise this novel, their banter and their back and forth, their endless in-jokes and constant chatter, I smacked my forehead, chagrined. Of course this dialogue is sharp, witty, energetic and amusing; Lynn is a playwright, it says so right there in his bio. He’s written and adapted many, many plays and received his M. F. A. from the Michener Center at the University of Texas. Oh, me of little faith!
I’m happy to report that I was not alone in my appreciation of this new work and Rules for Werewolves made it onto the final Indies Introduce list.
Rules for Werewolves is funny, dark, weird and addictive. The chapters swap formats between stretches of dialogue exchanged between various members of a group of young people who move from unoccupied suburban house to unoccupied suburban house, and close-ups on the histories of individual squatters. As you can imagine with a group of roving young people who stay alive by raiding the refrigerators of families on vacation, there are serious group politics involved. Power struggles, love affairs, in-fighting and brushes with the law plague our gang of young Americans who choose to live as if the apocalypse has already hit and all is up for grabs. I love the way the group dialogue merges the characters’ voices and becomes a chorus; the rhythm in these sections in particular is spot on. I thought this was a unique, engaging way to tell a story and a fresh way of looking at American culture, youth and class. At turns I was reminded of Christopher Moore and Chuck Palahniuk, but really, Kirk’s voice is all his own.
I’m thrilled this book is finally on our shelves and even more excited that we’ll have the opportunity to celebrate this ambitious, successful new literary work with its author when Kirk Lynn visits BookPeople to speak about and sign Rules for Werewolves on Monday, October 26th at 7pm. If you can’t make it, you can pre-order a signed, personalized copy. We’re happy to ship it to you, though we claim no responsibility for what may happen if the package arrives, you’re not home, but a strange young face hopped up on the contents of your pantry and medicine cabinet answers the door….