We were wolves by Jason Cockcroft

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Gritty atmospheric texts like this one, really show up the inadequacies of plot summaries. On spec, the narrator, is a sensitive teenager and self-appointed carer to John, a returned soldier with PSTD. His father’s state of mind and skill set make John vulnerable to exploitation by a local underworld crime boss. In parallel, the boy’s underworld, is full of primeval symbolism, woodlands survival, food gardening and poetry - wonderfully ethereal imagery to accompany the active events. 

Mol, the old stray, becomes the boy’s companion while John is incarcerated. Her loyalty and acceptance grounds the boy who is not mature enough to access more than a sense of the dangers surrounding his father’s predicaments – somewhat lulled by their shared dreams of an escape to the Scottish wilderness reunited as a happy family.

A dark and majestically illustrated novel in three parts, be assured it is encapsulated in the prefaced quote by John Steinbeck. “There is no other story.  A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of life, will have left only the hard clean questions: was it good or was it evil?”

Part one introduces us to the traumatized, to nature, to love, to memory, to antiquity, and to good and evil. Part two reunites the boy with his father, fresh from prison, testing him, toughening him with a bogus hiking holiday. Lastly, Part 3 finds the pair truly destitute. John both decides to do a job for Toomey and changes his mind, as if orchestrating the only possible end to his own psychological torment.

The key to John’s struggles emerges in his nightmares concerning his platoon’s mascot, a boy who stepped on a mine in Afghanistan – memories his family are ill-qualified to help him salve. The narrator’s uncertain phase between childhood and maturity is reminiscent of Carol Joyce Oat’s cautionary tales, describing the natural confusion, half-truths, misjudgments and misinformation so cataclysmic for protagonists coming of age in stressful situations.

For narrative cadence, gothic visuals and strength of character, this illustrated hardback is the stuff of group study in schools.  Shades of the psychological A Monster Calls might lead to film rights for some astute creative? On all levels this author definitely embraces Steinbeck’s grasp of the writer’s purpose – We were wolves has succeeded in “exposing our many grievous faults and failures, with dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous dreams for the purpose of improvement.”

Themes: Bildungsroman, Crime, Paranormal, Gothic, Family.

Deborah Robins