Stephen Marche, perhaps best known for his controversial opinion pieces in Esquire and elsewhere, has shifted literary gears with The Hunger of the Wolf, his offering to the popular genre of the sweeping family saga. A departure for Marche, the novel spans nearly a century, and opens dramatically with the naked body of Ben Wylie found abandoned in the northern Canadian snow. Humble protagonist and marginally employed journalist Jamie Cabot is given the assignment of discovering how the heir to the Wylie fortune came to meet his unceremonious demise.
What erupts is a moneyed tale with a supernatural twist, a book preoccupied with a long history of family secrets and shame, its prose as gilded as its subject matter. Via Cabot’s desperate journey to find the truth, Marche takes his reader into an otherworldly realm of excessive wealth, complete with the easy titillation of sex and beastly gore.
The narrative is focused on the generational dynamic between fathers and sons, and is peppered with the perhaps incongruous detail that the darkest family secret is the Wylie men also happen to be wolves. Yes, actual wolves or, more precisely, Marche’s version of werewolves: the Wylie men lock themselves in cages before the transition that accompanies every full moon. All of this is packaged in Marche’s luxurious propensity for simile and metaphor – a decorative touch well suited to the opulent subject matter.
There are times when the story feels too bloated to gather the necessary momentum to make it the page-turner it needs to be, and the characters – especially the female ones – gravitate toward prop status rather than feeling fully fleshed out. The writing style, though certainly beautiful, often risks distracting from the complex familial connections the story relays.
Despite these flaws, Marche certainly proves his flexibility as a writer. The Hunger of the Wolf is a polished and poised work of intrigue, which should be sufficient to satisfy readers looking for a lush, entertaining journey through a deviant family history.