Linger is a young adult novel about werewolves. No surprise, considering the success of properties like Twilight and True Blood. Shape shifting’s commercial appeal makes it logical that publishers are sensitive to the genre. One writer mixed Alcott’s Little Women with werewolves. Why shouldn’t Maggie Stiefvater follow suit?
In Linger, Stiefvater offers readers four post-adolescents–Grace and Sam, Isabel and Cole. The girls are mostly human. They guys are, or have been wolves. There’s background noise about other wolves, but we never meet them. They remain unresolved.
Stiefvater has good ideas. She stages the book from four points-of-view. Each character gives us the story as he or she sees it. The multiple points-of-view device is seldom used, and for good reason. It takes incredible prowess to pull it off–making sure readers don’t feel like the little balls popping around in a toddler push toy.
Problem? You can’t tell the difference between characters. They sound the same — teenager-y, but not. Plot-wise, the wolves’ underdeveloped wofiness doesn’t weigh in heavily. The book is mostly teen angst, teens misunderstood by their parents, and star-crossed love. It could be set anywhere, anytime, with any backstory.
These young werewolves grapple with staying human or succumbing to the call of the wild. The writer gets in her characters’ way. They can’t breathe the wildness of wolfery, nor show their perspective, motivation, or distinct individuality. Pop-culture influences trumpet like moose among the wolves. Like The X Files‘ Scully and Mulder, characters call each other by name constantly, sometimes twice in a single dialog run.
Backstory tries to bring readers into Linger‘s world but fails. Page after page, Sam describes Grace, Grace describes her symptoms, Cole describes his hatred for life, and Isabel covers for everyone. Best-selling writer Stiefvater knows the rules of Fiction 101. Readers need to be in the moment, feel the textures, see the sights, smell the scents.
Formulaic paragraphs dutifully list mornings tinted blue with fog, air smelling like wolf feces, cold skin, and eyes seeing something in the distance. That’s technique, not involvement.
There are intensely gripping werewolf, vampire, and wizard books, but Linger misses the short list. It could have been the product of software guaranteed to stamp out a tale of young supernatural coming of age. It’s about werewolves, but there are no delicious shudders. It is, indeed, about kissing, but the kissing that never makes it off the page into the reader’s imagination.
Stiefvater exercises technique, grappling more with herself than with her characters. She dumps Sam into the hospital watching his true love die. After an obligatory fist-fight between Grace’s Dad and Sam, Stiefvater tells us Sam “sits with his face crumpled in one hand.” That awkward description forces the reader out of the story with a visual of Sam’s disembodied face smushed into the palm of his extended hand (or paw).
The book will find an audience, but it could have been so much more.
Maryan Pelland is a certified book ghostwriter/writer specializing in and writers’ issues and baby boomer tech. Her byline has appeared more than 400 times in major publications in print and online. You can contact her at: maryan[at]ontext[dot]com.