The title Werewolf, Texas might seem too much of a giveaway to page on through this new book by D.J. Palladino, but the words “werewolf” and “Texas” on the cover are just the first salvo of a modernly meme-ful, libidinously lycanthropic, and punnily crafty novel. It’s a tale full of twists told with abundant style.
The opening scene greets like Sunset Boulevard, which a dead detective narrates, but our hero John Shaney soon stumbles in — the man who gets the girl and has tabs of blotter for every occasion — a newly arrived at UT Austin chemistry grad student from UC Santa Barbara. Austin’s massive film and music festival, South by Southwest, is in full raucous swing and stays on the fringes of the narrative, providing evocations of bands and music, restaurants and bars, and the occasional victim and lookers-on of the carnage that splatters across every other chapter.
The details coalesce from a fugue state of mind rather than explicit grossness, and the reader begins to suspect that more of the product Shaney makes has rubbed off on him than he knows. The story rocks with good sex, bad language — a linguistics prof suffers from Tourette’s — and dry humor. Never more than when the narrative drops in on the local academics:
“At the bottom of the stairs a little argument had broken out between some poststructuralist explicators and a New Historian, who seemed even more antique because he kept insisting that texts could not possibly be insulated from the lives of the men and women who created them. The others looked at his quaint-ass self with patronizing smirks.”
More often in a panic than not, Shaney traverses the strange badlands between Austin and the factory town of Wulfhardt, where the baronial Lionel “Wulfie” Wulfhardt is not only the father of Shaney’s new love, Lila May, but also Shaney’s new boss who wants to make use of his magic chemical touch. Like life, any tale should be judged by the manner in which it ends, and this big, messy snarl has a payoff that dumbfounds — until the reader says, “Of course. There was no other way” — and the town definitely stays weird.