Book Review : Max Booth III - Carnivorous Lunar Activities (2019)
Pre-Order Carnivorous Lunar Activities here (official release date February 22nd, 2019)
I’m usually not a werewolf guy. Werewolf fiction (if such thing exists) relies on outdated conventions. Wolves haven’t been scary since they were declared an endangered species and I find that writing about gigantic, bloodthirsty animals is not that different from writing about zombies. They’re just another form of mindless antagonist you have to kill to survive. Did I mention I don’t enjoy zombie novels? But Max Booth III is not good at following conventions. His upcoming novel Carnivorous Lunar Activities features meat, toxic masculinity, precisely one werewolf and in good Boothian fashion, it’s like nothing I’ve ever read before.
Carnivorous Lunar Activities is the story of Ted, a mediocre middle-aged man thinking about killing his wife. His homicidal pondering is interrupted by his old friend Justin, who he hasn’t talked to in a couple years. Justin is pretty adamant that Ted and him need to catch up and need to do it now. Adrift and unable to think for himself Ted acquiesces and finds Justin in a pitiful state. He can’t sleep, can’t think, stinks and seems addicted to eating large quantities of meat. And Justin had a simple requests for his childhood friend: that he shoots him in the heart with a silver bullet when the clock strikes midnight. For old times sake.
What’s great about this novel is that it revolves around a werewolf, but it doesn’t treat the topic like it’s a brand new idea. There’s no origin mythos, no revelatory transformation scene * or any other stereotypical werewolf fiction element. There’s a werewolf in it, but it’s about werewolves. Carnivorous Lunar Activities is primarily a novel about friendship and adulthood. If Ted and Justin are such endearing characters, it’s because they allowed themselves to drift from one another’s life as they've transitioned from directionless kids to mediocre adults. That probably happened to every human being on the planet, so the extreme situation they’re in is at least theoretically relatable.
We’ve all been Ted and Justin, suspending time for one night around a couple beers, trying to understand how we’ve betrayed the sacred bonds of childhood friendship. Except, you know… for that werewolf thing.
Carnivorous Lunar Activities also breaks fiction’s cardinal rule of “show, don’t tell'“ but in the best possible way. A lot of the novel consists in Justin explaining Ted what is going on and how they ended up there. If it was a movie, lots of it would happen through flashbacks sequences. And it’s great in the same way the first season of True Detective is great. Justin is an unreliable narrator trying to sell his story to his childhood friend and Ted isn’t having any of it, especially that Justin’s story is filled with people he knows. The gap between what happened and what Justin’s diseased mind thinks happened kept me entertained and on my toes.
I’m not sure where exactly I should rank Carnivorous Lunar Activities in Max Booth III’s legacy, but it’s near the top. Perhaps it’s not as viscerally satisfying and unpredictable as The Nightly Disease, but it’s more polished and cohesive. Writing characters who are so fundamentally flawed and yet endearing and redeemable is a skill not many writers have, but Booth excels at it. There’s few things I like more when reading a novel that seeing my own flaws and contradictions reflected to me and feeling a glimmer of hope anyway. Hope that they don’t condemn me to mediocrity and close-mindedness. Carnivorous Lunar Activities made me feel that. Not bad for a book about a werewolf.
* There is a transformation scene, but Justin spend the majority of the novel preparing Ted for it.