The Pack – Jason Starr
October 2, 2013 § 1 Comment
Now, before I tell you what I thought of this book, we need to get something out of the way. Jason Starr is not – I repeat, not – a feminist author. The Pack is a novel indisputably aimed at men. In fact, I find it very unlikely that the author ever intended for a female reader to pick his book up.
Simon Burns has been fired from his job (for reasons that are never truly made clear), and he’s disgruntled about it. Enormously unimpressed. One might even go so far as to say he’s downright irritated! But Starr presents this as passionate fury that drives Simon to unintentionally murder his former boss.
Then there’s Michael, the leader of The Pack itself. He’s direct, to the point of irreverent bluntness. As in, he tells his pack members, “you will have steak”, and this is considered his invitation to an exclusive night of manly bonding. The other two members of The Pack, Charlie and Ramon, lap up Michael’s domineering instructions, but Simon resists the temptation to be bound to the pack rules. Before being bitten, Simon is turned into a “temporary wolf”. After a wild night out at Michael’s family brewery, he wakes up in a different city, naked, disoriented and really freaked out. Turns out, the concoction that begins the transformation from human to wolf was…wait for it…in the beer. How manly is that?
Simon begins to notice physical changes. Suddenly, he’s full of boundless energy, has an insatiable sexual appetite and has gone from having a near-vegetarian diet to an exclusively carnivorous one. His wife doesn’t understand what’s happened and frankly, neither does Simon. He feels better in so many ways, but he doesn’t understand why. Unbeknownst to him (but quite apparent to the reader), he has begun the painful transition from human to lycanthrope.
I won’t lie to you, readers. Starr’s women are utterly pathetic. When Simon loses his high-flying advertising job, his wife proposes that he become a stay-at-home dad. She’s happy to be the sole breadwinner of the household, she tells him, with gritted teeth and a vein pulsing in her forehead. Well, that’s how it seemed to me. So Alison’s making all the money and being very modern-woman, but she hates it. She resents Simon for being their son’s primary parent, and she punishes him via constant passive-aggression. At one point, they find their marriage has taken a major turn for the better. Unconvinced that her husband is really and truly making an effort to improve, Alison decides there’s only one explanation for his actions – he must be cheating. Sure, that makes sense, right? Your husband starts actually doing what you’ve been bugging him to do, so he must be cheating? Right…
Simon and Alison seem to oscillate between two states – icy conflict, always initiated by Alison (Simon always tells her he’s sorry, and she’s right, and she still doesn’t relent), or animalistic sex. And there’s a lot of that, by the way.
The other significant female character in the novel is Olivia. Chosen as Michael’s “mate”, she spends the entire novel in a state of arousal. Of course, she has no capacity to resist Michael’s wolfish (ha) charms. I can’t really think of a scene in which she appears where she is not angling for sex. It’s pretty cringe-worthy. Olivia’s best friend, Diane, is the only female character in the book with anything resembling a backbone, but by the beginning of The Craving, the sequel to The Pack, she’s retreated to her parents’ home, a quivering mess of paranoia.
Okay, so obviously I found some elements of The Pack a bit silly. I feel like I need to stop right here and say that I actually really liked this book. Now, before the feminists start preparing to lynch me, let me say this: I picked up The Pack with the expectation that it would be a testosterone-fuelled foray into urban lycanthropy (which, clearly, it was). Therefore, I was not disappointed (in fact, I was gleefully smug) when it lived up to this expectation. Of course I don’t support the pathetic way that Jason Starr depicted every single one of his female characters. However, if I’d expected to see a strong woman kicking butt, I would have simply read another book.
The Pack is a fast-paced thriller that takes unexpected twists and turns. The fact that the men in this book are werewolves is almost secondary to the main plot, which is finding out what happened to Simon’s boss. I imagine that this is the author’s background in crime fiction coming into play, and I actually found it a very enjoyable part of this book. In the interest of transparency, I did think that there was too much of a focus on Simon and Alison’s marital problems. Almost the first half of the book was dedicated to their constant bickering, which only ever seemed to be resolved with sex. It gets old pretty quick, and I have a limited tolerance for romance at the best of times. However, there was an undercurrent of suspicion and danger that compelled me to finish the book, even despite being a bit irritated by it. The second half of the novel flew by without me even noticing, and suddenly, I had finished it and needed its sequel!
After The Pack, I went on a bit of a werewolf jaunt. I’m currently halfway through Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf, and even considering a reread of Martin Millar’s Lonely Werewolf Girl. Admittedly, when I sat down with The Craving, The Pack’s sequel, I couldn’t take much more of the gender issues, so I put it aside for now. I might still come back to it, but it won’t be for a while.
Got a craving for more werewolves? Check out my review of Red Moon by Benjamin Percy – my favourite werewolf book!