Monday, August 12, 2013



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I'm not sure that I've ever read anything quite like LARA PARKER's new DARK SHADOWS novel, WOLF MOON RISING. Opening with a brief abstract illustrating the star-crossed relationships of its major players, the novel feels like a relic from the past. Not because of its period setting, but because it embraces the kind of fanatical pursuit of ideas that has fallen out of fashion in modern literature. The story is told with the unbridled, slightly unhinged energy of a writer who doesn't believe she's got the luxury of a do-over in her next book.

Even though WOLF MOON RISING would qualify as a gothic romance by anyone's definition, I was constantly reminded of PHILIP K. DICK throughout. Summarizing this novel is going to be a nightmare for critics, because there are no fewer than four stories humming along concurrently, each one of them laced with social and political satire that ranges from subtle to horrendously violent. There's a ton of backstory involved, not only from Parker's previous novel, but from the television series, as well. And GRAYSON HALL fans are probably going to be pissed.

In other words, there’s a lot happening in the book. Possibly enough to fill a year's worth of stories in the original series.

Minor spoilers follow. 

Picking up a few weeks after the conclusion of THE SALEM BRANCH, we’re introduced to a new status quo at Collinwood. Barnabas Collins is again a vampire, as is Dr. Julia Hoffman. As you might expect, Barnabas isn't entirely happy with the situation. He not only hates what he’s (again) become, but despises Hoffman’s submissive new role. The more she tries to please him, the more he resents her, leading to a shockingly cruel resolution to this conflict in the book’s early pages.

If that wasn’t enough, Barnabas decides to follow through on his plan to sabotage the happiness of Quentin Collins by destroying the magical painting that keeps his werewolf curse at bay, and provides him a unique form of immortality. Meanwhile, a man claiming to be the relative of Nicholas Blair arrives at Collinwood in search of a vampire, while David Collins and his haunted companion, Jackie Harpignies, take an expected trip back to Collinwood’s heyday in the Roaring Twenties.

While it all sounds simple enough, the level of absurd mayhem in WOLF MOON RISING is sometimes astonishing. While Parker has literary goals, she never lets go of the bizarre elements that made DARK SHADOWS special. The book can be quiet and lean when it wants to be, such as in Jackie’s increasingly lonely encounters with school bullies. But it can also go full CHAN-WOOK PARK, sometimes to its own detriment. The “1920s Flashback” doesn’t so much climax as it cascades, as bootleggers, organized crime and the Ku Klux Klan leave permanent scars on Collinwood in quick order. With DARK SHADOWS, it’s always hard to tell when too much is too much, and this leg of the story might actually bend credulity past its breaking point.

Then again, it might all have been worth it for the moment of a young Elizabeth (not-yet-Stoddard) Collins riding the sideboard of a luxury car, blasting away at mobsters with a revolver.

The novel also touches on some of the favorite themes of the original television series. While the daytime program had to abide by the nebulous standards of network censors, Parker's under no such restraints. As it turns out, Louis Edmonds' famous "incestors" blooper had some basis in fact. Yeah, the relationship between Barnabas and Carolyn (not to mention his relationship with Victoria Winters, since we were lead to believe she was also a Collins) was always icky. In WOLF MOON RISING, though, Parker calls it what it is. Jameson Collins, played in the 1897 story by a young DAVID HENESY, is a grown man in the 1920s flashback, and is furious by the previously unrevealed affair between his daughter, Elizabeth, and his immortal uncle, Quentin. The "I" word is used, and it's not not pretty.

And it's not even the biggest WTF?! moment in the novel.

The flashback sequence plays like a loose sequel to the 1897 story and is the novel's centerpiece. I suspect it's also going to be the most troublesome section for some readers. There are moments that contradict exiting canon, but the continuity of DARK SHADOWS got messier and messier in the years leading to its cancellation. Edith Collins, for example, died twice on the show. Her second death was either a product of editorial oversight, or was collateral damage created by the show's many timeslips.

The continuity errors present in WOLF MOON RISING suggest a third possibility: Parker had something she wanted to say with the characters and valued her story more than she did fan service.

As an author, Parker gets DARK SHADOWS better than anyone who's been allowed a crack at the material since it left the airwaves in 1971. She gets it better than Tim Burton, who loves the show without really understanding how it works. She gets it better than the various writers who have worked on the tie-in novels, comics and audio dramas over the years, even though some of those products have had moments of brilliance. And, I dare say, Parker gets it better the show's original mastermind, DAN CURTIS, who arguably began to misunderstand the appeal of his own show before it was even cancelled.

WOLF MOON RISING has some continuity issues, which a few fans of the show will unironically take issue with.  It can be a little unfocused at times as its ensemble cast fights among each other for prominence in the story. And it’s got a nightmarish sense of reality and structure that wouldn’t be out of place in a DAVID LYNCH movie. These elements might be a problem other novel, but only made it feel more like DARK SHADOWS to me.

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Anonymous said...

This may be my favorite thing I've ever read of yours, Wallace. Well done.

Unknown said...

Thanks, man. I've actually been agonizing over this review. I'm glad you liked it.

Anonymous said...

havn't read it yet..i just wish they could bring victoria winters in and even burke devlin...the review was excellent..can't wait to read about elizabeth shooting down mobsters...cannot wait to read it, period..may you all have a blessed day.

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