When I read Thanksgiving for Werewolves, M.L. Kennedy‘s forthcoming short-story collection, I think of Dashiell Hammett. I mean, when I read about Kennedy’s pro-wrestling heroes, I think of Hammett’s chain-smoking private eyes. I mean… well, they both drink a lot of coffee. Is that it?
Yes, that’s part of “it.” Same for propulsive action, gratuitous violence, and witty banter between morally ambiguous characters. Just as in his debut novella, The Mosquito Song, Thanksgiving for Werewolves throws a bunch of random ingredients (Buffalo mall girls, young Flint hooligans, and the odd bro or two) on the grill like some of the short-order cooks that populate his stories, and while you don’t expect the result to work out, it does.
I’ve long thought that a big part of the appeal of Kennedy’s supernatural horror (some of which could be fairly described as “slapstick” and some as “splatterpunk”) is that his style seems so similar in spirit to the hardboiled writers of yore. I don’t mean the grisly, grim, “world-is-awful” noir writers in the spirit of James Cain and Patricia Highsmith, or the many less impressive attempts at neo-noir today (“nostalgia-noir” I call it), but the spirited action of protagonists who know what they have to do — or at least think that they know — and so aren’t particularly troubled by the outcomes of their life-or-death battles. It’s all kinetic, crackling with speed and motion and dialogue, and it is especially interesting in a genre — werewolves, zombies, vampires, et al — that has become so conscious of social commentary and teen bathos that many stories are tedious to read, even when they are well written. If you are willing to accept these stories on their own terms, you will probably enjoy them for the same reasons you enjoyed The Mosquito Song.
Now how does Thanksgiving for Werewolves compare to Kennedy’s debut? It is, I think, less tightly organized and less carefully crafted. Mosquito Song had, for all its snark, a kind of unsentimental poignance; a reflection on (in)human experience that snuck in around the cracks of its fast-moving plot. This type of subtle reflection is by-and-large missing from the short stories here, including from the epic titular piece. The short stories are a lot of concept and little plot; sometimes a vignette, or even just a single striking image (“A Hair Out of Place” comes to mind). But there are pros to this approach, too. For all its nonstop action, the story “Thanksgiving for Werewolves” (which features fourteen chapterettes and is half the entire length of the whole collection) contains enough twists, snark, pop-culture reference, and best of all, elbow drops for a full-blown novel. The other pieces treat us to creative and unexpected takes on everything form H.P. Lovecraft to The Game of Thrones to the new Godzilla movie to anti-vaxxers. The sheer range of theme and subject matter here is perhaps the most exciting thing about the collection; Kennedy demonstrates just how sprawling and spontaneous his imagination really is, and many of these short pieces could be elaborated into longer projects.
It makes me very excited to see what he cooks up next.
In the meantime, like many of Kennedy’s characters, my hunger is sated by Thanksgiving for Werewolves. But possibly not for long…