Wolfsong by TJ Klune – A Review
Graduate school is rewarding but takes a lot out of you. Prior to moving out to Indianapolis for my MFA education, I read a lot of paranormal romance, fantasy, and science fiction novels. My degree is focused on nonfiction, and I promised my inner book geek that it wouldn’t affect my reading list. Four years later, I’ve been swamped with nonfiction and had to put my growing list of fantasy and sci fi on hold. I broke that habit a month ago when I picked up Wolfsong by TJ Klune.
I’ve had my eye on Klune for a while. Besides being adorably imaginative (and just adorable in general), many reviewers wrote that his works were some of the best written M/M (male/male) novels around.
I finished Wolfsong late last week and I have to say that I totally agree.
“Ox was twelve when his daddy taught him a very valuable lesson. He said that Ox wasn’t worth anything and people would never understand him. Then he left.
Ox was sixteen when he met the boy on the road, the boy who talked and talked and talked. Ox found out later the boy hadn’t spoken in almost two years before that day, and that the boy belonged to a family who had moved into the house at the end of the lane.
Ox was seventeen when he found out the boy’s secret, and it painted the world around him in colors of red and orange and violet, of Alpha and Beta and Omega.
Ox was twenty-three when murder came to town and tore a hole in his head and heart. The boy chased after the monster with revenge in his bloodred eyes, leaving Ox behind to pick up the pieces.
It’s been three years since that fateful day—and the boy is back. Except now he’s a man, and Ox can no longer ignore the song that howls between them.”
We’re introduced to Oxnard Matheson in a heartbreaking scene with his father. He’s twelve and lonely and his father is about to abandon him and his mother. He tells Ox that he’s dumb as an ox, and that Ox will go through life getting a lot of shit from people. This moment’s significance resonates throughout the book and becomes one of Ox’s central struggles. As a queer man with his own “daddy issues,” I found the repetitious nature of his father’s words haunting him years later to be authentic and validating.
Klune’s prose style is poetic. In a rapid-fire, minimalist approach we see Ox struggling at school and at home. Snapshot after snapshot, Klune jumps between each of these milestones quickly enough that you want to keep reading, but not too quick that you feel like you’re missing important information. We jump in age – 16, 17, 23, and then 26. He gets a job at the same garage his father worked at and the owner becomes both an older brother and father figure to him. His life becomes a simple routine between home, school, and the garage, and it’s in the middle of this routine that he meets Joe Bennett.
One humid afternoon, Ox sees Joe, a then-little boy standing at the end of the lane of a house that’s been abandoned for quite some time. Joe introduces himself and Ox finds out that his family is moving into the abandoned house. Ox isn’t sure why Joe is so interested in him, but it is obvious that a connection is made that day. A reluctant Ox is introduced to the rest of the Bennett family. They too display a strange happiness to have him around. The reason and so much more is explored in Klune’s swift prose.
— Kestra Pingree (@KestraPingree) March 28, 2018
Klune treads the waters of an evolving six-year age gap romance with care. Years pass between the two and the book is full of adorable, gut wrenching, and sexy moments. I have a strong bias toward sexy book scenes, especially when writers like Klune continuously dangle sexual tension in front of a reader like a carrot tied to a stick for hundreds of pages. I’ll avoid spoilers … the chapter appropriately titled “love” is where the sexual tension pays off and the pacing of the book becomes decidedly slower. Klune knew what he was doing when he shifted gears. Like a good orgasm, “Wolfsong” reaches its intimate climax in this moment. I appreciate that Klune didn’t hold back in his descriptions.
“His breath on my face. This was Joe. And I was Ox. His nose touched mine. My hands found his waist. He shuddered under the touch. He rumbled deep in his chest. He said, “Mine.” My cheek scraped against his. The wolf growled, “Mine.” It was a great and terrible thing. So I said, “Yeah. Joe. Yeah. Yes.””
Wolfsong is special in the realm of M/M romance novels because it tackles many deeper themes. Trauma is something that both Joe and Ox must struggle with throughout the story and I appreciate the “answers” that Klune gives to readers on how to cope with it. It blurred the lines between paranormal and reality enough that at points I had to pull myself away from the book because I was revisiting traumatic moments in my life. It was never too much to handle though. My respite from the heavier moments didn’t last too long and Klune is considerate enough to pull you back up just as you’re gasping for air. The heaviness of some of the subject matters is beautifully countered with some of the funniest lines I’ve read in a novel in recent years. I chuckled when Ox’s emotions were revealed thanks to his increased heart rate or body scents caught by the sharp noses of the werewolves. (“Fucking werewolves.”)
Secondary characters in Wolfsong are well done. Klune uses specific details to familiarize readers with the different characters and does so without writing long-winded passages of back story or causing Ox or Joe to disappear from the narrative. Family is another important element to the story and this comes alive in the dynamics between Ox and his mom, the Bennett’s, and many others who come into the story as it evolves. Their interactions were authentic and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them get time to shine in Ravensong, the next installment of the Green Creek series.
Wolfsong concludes with a sexy and powerful scene. It easily could have come off campy in the wrong hands but Klune did such an amazing job creating context. It was satisfying as an ending but leaves ample room for future entries.