How does one go about reviewing a book by Tristan Egolf? First, I should point out that this is his third and final book, having been published posthumously after his suicide last spring. Thus, I went into this book with the full knowledge that it represents one third of his literary corpus, and that its impression on me would fundamentally influence my opinion of his abilities. Also, he had already set the bar pretty damn high with his debut novel, Lord of the Barnyard [will be reviewed sometime later this year; perhaps summer].
I didn’t want to finish Kornwolf, because I knew that it was the last new piece of Egolf’s that I would ever read, short of hypothetical manuscripts that may or may not be published by his estate. Also, it was damn good.
It was different than Lord of the Barnyard. For starters, while the debut contained no direct quotation, Kornwolf had plenty, leading to a somewhat “jerkier” narrative style. Egolf tended a bit more towards simple Modernism, rather than Post Modernism, throwing nods to the sort of conversational style that reminds me of Chuck Palahniuk, often using short sentences, in new paragraphs.
And then moving on with the story. Some of it, especially the expositional paragraphs, were a direct throwback to Lord…, but Egolf grew as a writer, and Kornwolf is a different creature entirely. Telling the story of a werewolf terrorizing a heavily-Amish area of rural Pennsylvania, it weaves together the narratives of multiple characters, including Owen, a sometimes-reporter; Jack, a boxing coach and the owner of a struggling gym; Ephraim, a troubled young Amish mute. Those are just the principles. Egolf includes a lot more characters, and takes time to develop them. In that way, he reminds me a bit of Stephen King, in that much of the character exposition didn’t serve any purpose to the plot, but was there simply because the author likes to develop dynamic characters. There were entire sections of Kornwolf, like Lord…, that were completely masturbatory…. and completely awesome.
Perhaps this excerpt from the California Literary Review will shed some light.
It takes only the first sentence of the book[…] to realize that one is in the presence of genius, perhaps mad genius, but generative genius nonetheless. And we need not ignore the pathos of “cries emanating from lurch of within, as of burning of flame now,” to also appreciate the Joycean exuberance of language and affect.
Kornwolf raises the question of whether or not one can endure one’s heritage. We all have tendencies to repeat that heritage, spend our lives rebelling against it, or enacting an unconscious treatment plan for it. As one character says, “Better off dead than a prodigal son,” but one is still tied to that which one hates. The literal terrain of Kornwolf is the region west of Philly, out Route 30, where the curiously named township of Lamepeter and settlements of Blue Ball, Intercourse, Bird-in-Hand, Laycock, and Paradise actually exist, but where a werewolf also roams, no doubt to embody the rage of the author that Penns Woods have been turned into Pennsylvania, the City of Brotherly Love into Philth Town, the plain folk Amish into marketable commodities, with tourist car exhaust blighting the crops.
As fun as it may be to read Kornwolf as a madcap story about an Amish werewolf, or delight in Egolf’s imaginative plot construction, or simply marvel at his sheer exuberance for the written word, there is also a lot more lurking under the surface. Hopefully, this means that I will be able to discover new things every time I read it.