There is an unexpected intensity to the writing in Wolf Parts–a graphic, visceral quality that immerses you in a world where seemingly incompatible realities coincide. While I have come to expect solid writing from Matt Bell, I felt he was trying something different, something less controlled, with this book and in that experimentation, he has not only exceeded my expectations, he has crafted an engrossing tale that is intriguing, at times erotic and violent, and one of the most interesting reads I’ve enjoyed in some time.
Wolf Parts is not just a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. It is a series of concurrent retellings, creating a narrative complexity that is unsettling and gives the impression that you are reading a story within a story within a story. The language of this book is meticulous and precise; not a single word was wasted or out of place. Earlier, I noted that this feels like Bell’s least controlled writing and despite the immaculate prose, I find an uncharacteristic wildness, an abandon to the story itself. There is an undercurrent of desire throughout the story that thrilled me because it was provocative and uncomfortable. The prose also had an immersive, physical quality with a great deal of attention paid to the senses–the taste of rotting meat, slick innards, breath like chalk, plush pillows, sharp knives.
The familiar characters from Little Red Riding Hood are all present in Wolf Parts–there’s a girl, a grandmother, a woodsman and a wolf, but they refuse to play their proper parts. The wolf, in particular, is at once a man, sometimes loathsome, surprisingly sympathetic. He is one and many. He is both predator and prey. What I appreciated most about Wolf Parts, in addition to the complexity that feels subtle until, by the end when it overwhelms, is the way in which Bell plays with dualities throughout the story. There are no villains and victims in Wolf Parts and there is an unexpected tenderness at times, particularly in the wolf who cannot help but be a wolf and yet, he loves.
After the mother and grandmother both passed away, the wolf took their places, so that the girl he secretly adored would not have to go without.
The girl in this story, Red, is burdened with terrible responsibilities and choices. She knows things. She is no naif. In one moment:
She waited, polite and acquiescent, and as soon as the wolf forced himself inside her, she sprung her trap, showing him that she too knew what it meant to consume someone whole.
By the end of the book, you come to realize that in a story told with no clear beginning, middle or end, there was still an inevitable fate.
When she would not love him as a boy, he went into the woos and became a wolf, the better to take from her what he wanted. If only he had waited until later, when he was a man and she a woman, their fates might have been different.
Wolf Parts was released as a limited edition so copies will be hard to come by but if you weren’t one of the lucky people who bought Wolf Parts during the pre-sale, you can enjoy the story in Bell’s short story collection, How They Were Found, which will be released by Keyhole Books in October.