I last read Kornwolf at the beginning of 2006, when it was a new book, released shortly after the death of its author. While even then I realized that it couldn’t compare to Egolf’s debut work, Lord of the Barnyard, I’m not sure it was clear to me just what a deficit there was until now.
Actually, that’s not entirely fair, since I think the plot and characters of Lord of the Barnyard lent themselves to its style. Kornwolf is a different beast entirely1; I’m of the personal opinion that it should have been twice as long, because the story is expansive, with many parallel threads. While Egolf does his usual excellent job of crafting the narrative, I felt somewhat slighted at the way so much seemed to be passed over.
Kornwolf is the story of, centrally, an Amish werewolf named Ephraim; we are never given much entry into Ephraim’s thoughts. Like Lord of the Barnyard‘s John Kaltenbrunner, he remains aloof from readers, explained only by the narrator in bits and pieces. Ephraim’s ongoing problem is basically the struggle of the Pennsylvania Amish community writ small: a house divided against itself, so to speak, it’s dark past and baser instincts threatening to destroy it from within.
Egolf spends the most time, however, on Owen, a freelance reporter and aspiring boxer who comes back to the area after a long time away. It is through Owen that we start to learn more about Jack, the surly gym owner and boxing coach; it is also through Owen’s research and reporting that the “Blue Ball Devil” drama—the werewolf sightings both present and historical—unfold. Clearly, Owen is the most sympathetic character in the entire book, and he is ironically the most unfamiliar character in the book, since so much time is spent learning about others through him as opposed to learning about him.
Egolf’s love for entropy is in full force here: while there’s no garbage strike culminating in a riot, there is a multiple-car pileup, armed vigilantes, and a fire. If there’s one current in Egolf’s books, it’s taking a culture he knows and heaping scorn upon it. He may have been intellectual and a narrative prodigy, but I get the feeling that Egolf had a lot of anger inside him, even if the snooty intellectual sort. Kornwolf, unsurprisingly, is filled out with a supporting cast of bumbling idiots, rednecks (“English,” as opposed to the “Dutch” or Amish), criminals, and other such salt of the earth, all foils to the more dynamic and more sympathetic of the characters, whose work continues unabated and occasionally hindered by the former.
As I mentioned before, my biggest problem with Kornwolf is that there’s not enough of it: I like Egolf’s writing and characters so much that I want him to go on, ad infinitem with stories and tangents and character-building in the vein of Stephen King. The impression I get from reading the book is that of a three-dimensional plot with somewhat two-dimensional characters, since I have a hard time determining what makes them tick, even though their interactions make for a great story.
Again like Lord of the Barnyard, Kornwolf explores the influence of history on present-day events. Legacy is a power, inescapable force that drives us in strange and unpredictable ways. In so many ways, the Amish are a perfect culture to use for this concept because their dedication to tradition and legacy necessarily trap and perpetuate the evil that the book narrates. While I still prefer Lord of the Barnyard, I must say that Kornwolf was a pretty wonderful note on which to to leave.
- No pun intended.[↩]