Book of the Month, July: Cycle of the Werewolf

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I had to do some real thinking for July’s reading suggestion.  The book I had originally planned to write about is dark and rather depressing (it’s true crime and a harrowing read).  It’s a good book, but I thought it would be better to save it for later.  Since we have arrived at the height of summer, I think something a little more fun is in order.  The year is half over and the holidays will soon be breathing down our necks before we know it.  I feel it’s the perfect time for Cycle of the Werewolf.

I wrote about the film version, Silver Bullet, a few weeks ago and it’s nothing if not a good time. Movies and books can feel seasonal whether or not they are set at a particular time and Silver Bullet has always felt like a summer movie to me.  The book, on the other hand, is an anytime read. It chronicles an entire year of a monster’s terror on a small town (and it hits every major holiday). We have hit the halfway point in the calendar and it feels like the best time to crack open Cycle of the Werewolf.

The book begins in January, properly enough, on a snowy night in Tarker’s Mills, Maine. Arnie Westrum, an employee for the railroad, is holed up in a shed waiting out a  storm. He’s playing solitaire when something big, hairy and hungry busts through the door and kills him.  This marks, as the book says, the beginning of the cycle of the werewolf.  Every month on the full moon, somebody is going to die. After his best friend is killed, and his own run-in with the werewolf, it’s left to Marty Coslaw to kill the creature.

Cycle of the Werewolf started life as a calendar.  The plan was for Stephen King to write a chapter of a story for each month to be accompanied by Berni Wrightson’s illustrations.  Somewhere along the way, I think, the calendar fell through and the book was published elsewhere with the illustrations intact, thankfully (Wrightson’s work is awesome as ever; also check out his illustrated Frankenstein and his work on his original comic book Rune). 

Much like Robert Louis Stevenson did with Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, King employed the “economy of words” with Cycle of the Werewolf (technically a novella if we want to split hairs).  No word is wasted and only the ones required are used.  I think that’s why, after ‘Salem’s Lot, this is my favorite of King’s books. It’s short, sweet and straight to the horrific point.