I’ve said it before: I’m not really big on vampires. Werewolves though? That’s my jam. Dealing with the disconnect between your human body and beastly transformation, the drama that can arise from this, and some good old-fashioned gore are all perks of lycanthropy media. This is exactly what The Beast in Aisle 34 by Darrin Doyle is about.
Sandy Kurtz is a pretty average joe. He works at a Lowe’s Hardware Store. He lives in a house bought by his wife Pat’s family in the boonies. Oh, also he’s a werewolf. The initial bite was months ago, and he’s still getting used to his new monthly romps in the woods, killing and eating wildlife (mostly deer). The majority of the book involves Sandy progressively losing his normality and giving in to his beastly side. I couldn’t help but picture my brother-in-law, who is also a hardware store manager and all-around plain guy.
The tone of the book flip-flops from comedic to violent, so it’s not surprising to me that author Darrin Doyle’s favourite film is An American Werewolf in London, a classic that also uses humour to break up the action (and contains the best werewolf transformation scene ever). Where they differ is the main character—in London, David (David Naughton) is a fairly likable guy, but Sandy…is kind of selfish and annoying. That of course is not a death sentence—it just meant I maybe had a bit less sympathy for him than others in the same situation.
Overall, he seems unhappy with his life but unsure what to do about it. He’s not a great husband but does step up when Pat announces her pregnancy, decorating a nursery and getting everything ready for the baby’s arrival. His only friends, Jerry and Ben (to differentiate from the ice cream duo) seem more “friends of convenience” rather than true connections. He later accepts their invite to a LARPing weekend, if only to use it as a cover-up for his werewolf transformation. (LARPing “Live Action Roleplaying” is like a bunch of friends playing Dungeons and Dragons together in real life.)
That’s another aspect—Sandy is terrible at hiding his lycanthropy. Monthly “work trips” revolving around the full moon only take so long before getting suspicious, and on the ill-fated LARPing trip, he creates a werewolf character, attempting to hide in plain sight. Of course, this ends in disaster, and he ends up killing and eating Jerry. Transforming near that many people was a rookie move, dude. As a werewolf, Sandy’s sense of smell is incredible, and there’s no way he’d be far enough away not to sniff out a horde of sweaty campers.
Is it unfair for me to judge someone in his position? Well, definitely. I can’t say I’d do any better if I was stricken with the Lycan bug. I was just mentally face-palming as it got worse and worse for Sandy. The person who bit him (a woman named Marlene) eventually tracks him down to apologize and offer help, which Sandy considers, but he never actually calls her back. While this does sort of come into play later, I feel like it was a missed opportunity for the two of them to get to know each other better, maybe have a sort of mentor-mentee relationship.
After a few more full moons—with the nagging guilt of Jerry’s death getting to him—Sandy hightails it out of town, wandering from place to place. He’s rescued from drowning by a fisherman named Trout (love that name) who cares for Sandy as he recovers. I was honestly expecting him to stay with Trout, maybe take up a solitary existence as a hermit and live out his days away from potential cannibalistic encounters.
To be honest, every time I’d guess where the story was going, I was wrong! It’s natural for the reader to put themselves in the protagonist’s shoes, to guess what their next move will be. I’m not like Dandy though. Something he’s not sure about himself keeps pushing him onwards, an innate survival instinct spurring him. Obligatory spoiler warning here!
I’m not sure why but I was expecting a happy ending for Sandy. Maybe I started to feel bad for him, to hope for his success. It’s been a while since I’ve watched a werewolf movie, and I forgot about the tropes of the genre. It usually doesn’t end well. After being held captive by werewolves who find Sandy irredeemable for his cannibalism, he shucks off any remaining idea of returning to “normal”. His senses, even while human, become more wolf-life, and after he escapes he kills his captors.
Sandy becomes convinced the only way to get through to Pat is to show her his true self, his werewolf form. By kidnapping his baby daughter. The final confrontation between Wolfman and his wife ends in tragedy, with Sandy gunned down. The baby—named Sandra after her presumed dead father, now actually dead—is safe. It’s kind of a bummer, but at the same time seemed like the only logical outcome. He couldn’t keep running forever.
While I may have been a bit saddened by the ending, I did enjoy The Beast in Aisle 34. It kept surprising me with the story going in unexpected directions and it was quite funny at times, especially the LARPing adventure–how often do you see that in books?
I recently read a post that said, “We need more loser protagonists,” and it’s both silly and true. Not everyone can be a hero, not every story has a happy ending. It’s refreshing to see more of that.
The Beast in Aisle 34 releases on September 28th. A copy was provided by Tortoise Books for review purposes.