Book of the Summer

Benjamin Percy on <em>Red Moon</em>, his new thriller <br />about howling at the moon

Benjamin Percy, the writer-in-residence at St. Olaf College, has worn a pregnancy suit for GQ, reflected on aging for Esquire, and penned the smartest book you’ll ever read about werewolves.

Question: I didn’t think anyone could make werewolves cool again after Teen Wolf.

Benjamin Percy: Red Moon is a reinvention of the werewolf myth. I spent a lot of time sitting down with researchers at the USDA and Iowa State University to figure out the slippery science behind an animal-borne pathogen—in this case prions, like Mad Cow and Chronic Wasting Disease—that leaps out of the wolf population and affects the brain: the ability to control rage, sexual impulses. The werewolf or lycan myth resonates because we’ve all lost control at some point and come to regret it later.

Why werewolves and not, say, vampires? Pale skin and fangs not scary enough?

BP: Americans are terrified of germs. Purell oozes from the entry of every mall, grocery store, school, hospital, and athletic club. I wanted to funnel this anxiety onto the page.

Would you enjoy being a werewolf? Or would that be too much hair clogging the drain?

BP: About a year ago, when I moved to Minnesota, I came across a “research” paper I had written in the sixth grade. The title: Werewolves! In preparing to write it, I had followed the instructions I’d found in the back of some strange book: in my backyard, under a full moon, I’d smeared myself in deer fat, arranged rocks in some arcane design, and read a poem out loud in Old English. True story. But you ask that question as if it were a hypothetical—lock your doors.

Lycan or Robert Pattinson—who wins?

BP: My lycans don’t concern themselves with hair product or Banana Republic. Pretty-boy vampires with pouty lips don’t stand a chance.

I’ve heard that you obsess over first and last lines. What are some of your favorites?

BP: “It is hard to tell among so many bodies—and some of them in skirts—but I think I am the only woman in the bar,” from Elizabeth Graver’s short story Between. Another: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice,” from Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. I collect them like pretty stones.

Red Moon ($26, Grand Central Publishing) is available in stores and online.