THE WEREWOLVES, by H.R. Coursen; Just Write Books, Topsham, Maine, 2010; 138 pages, trade paperback, $18.95
Tony Stone, the narrator of H.R. Coursen’s new novel “The Werewolves,” is a soldier of conscience in a world gone more or less crazy. Sometime in the not-too-distant future, the economic meltdown has led to a political meltdown. There is war in the Middle East. Polarization in the domestic U.S.A. has spawned a loosely organized paramilitary group with international tentacles whose mission is to eliminate the evils of progressive thinking — meaning the thinkers themselves — which they blame for the mess the world is in. They call themselves the Werewolves.
Tony, wounded in the fighting on the road to Damascus, has completed his tour of duty and returned home well-decorated. Unable to decide whether to go to college, get married or re-enlist, he gets to talking with some of his well-educated buddies one night about the clear and present danger the Werewolves pose to civilization in general, and they decide that, times being what they are, progressives must literally start fighting back. They nominate Tony, with military credentials ideally suited to the Werewolf mentality, to infiltrate the group and carry out, well, disruptions within.
By midway through the book he is deep in. Along the way he runs up against a gorgeous and innocent teenage girl and a gorgeous and well-experienced married woman, conflicts he works out in his head, in bed and on tennis courts, and against ethical and political qualms which he works out in lengthy discussions over drinks and pizza with his fellow activists. The gist of their philosophy is: There comes a point where bloodshed is not only inevitable but required. They are contemporary Hamlets ready to be rather than wait not to be.
This alternate history (as the genre is called in science fiction circles) is deliberately depicted as only a couple of degrees north-northwest of our present-day political situation, meaning the high-intensity enmity evinced by far-right conservatives for President Obama and “liberals” has become murderous on a worldwide scale, and law and order are faltering in the States.
At least, so indicate the opening pages of the book, which offer a deftly written precis of Tony’s alternate reality. The action that follows reads roughly like a treatment for a Jason Bourne thriller, with frequent personal and political ruminations by Tony and extremely quick cuts from scene to dangerous scene.
I doubt if this book will get recommended to Maine’s new governor. Or if it were — in some hopelessly distant alternate reality — to fall into his hands, I’m sure he wouldn’t like its political outlook. This might give an indication of whether you’ll love it or hate it.
Award-winning Shakespeare teacher H.R. Coursen of Brunswick has written some 30 novels, including “The Wilderness” and “Storm Warnings,” which could be read as companion pieces to “The Werewolves,” along with many accomplished poems. His books are available through www.jstwrite.com.