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The sparsely ornamented hardback cover of Kornwolf, which is Egolf's follow-up to the modestly received yet grossly underestimated (how no screenwriters out in LA have seen the obvious possibilities paralleling the David Fincher-directed Fight Club is beyond me) second novel, Skirt and the Fiddle, caught my eye for no particular reason. It wasn't until I'd glanced over the jacket description and grazed upon the idea of an Amish werewolf for a few moments that I decided the book was a must-read. Okay, and the mysterious birth and death dates for the author, with no substantiating information as to how or why he would not be writing after Kornwolf also gave the book some appeal.
The novel opens with a scattered, italicized first-person account of a ramble of mayhem through the broken countryside of Pennsylvania, and the words are enough to draw a reader in for the long haul:
…tearing through bull-thistle, jimsonweed, supplejack-brittle with mid-autumn coming of frost-and of pulsating crimson, appendages thwarted and stumbling, slam into fallen timber, as worm-ridden slick with organic decay-to meandering blindly through goldenrod, inkberry, sheep laurel, bladdernut, Solomon's seal-a prickling rash of woodland nettles-cries emanating from lurch of within, as of burning of flame now, at once underfoot-down embankment and plunging headlong into watercress, chilly with runoff from fertilized fields, and of crippling thirst satiated in excess-then up again, scrambling, mud on the incline, jagged escarpment, then over to stillness…
But, short of a brief return to the first person of the Kornwolf later in the book, the vibrancy and jumbled elegance of those words are an anomaly. Egolf is not to Stephen King what Marc Bojanowski is to Hemingway. That is not to say that Egolf couldn't write - quite the contrary. His storyline is unique, his characters almost universally well developed (there's even a bit of overkill when he delves into the lineage of the Kornwolf that runs back to the Thirty Years War in Europe), and the sarcasm and wit with which he arms the key players is thoroughly honed. Egolf even goes the extra mile and develops a few sub-plots to flesh out supporting characters and throw shadow over any quick conclusions that could be drawn. But the stylistic depth that no doubt would have solidified in subsequent novels, had Egolf not shot himself in the head early in May of last year, is within the pages of Kornwolf still too rough. There are too many shortcuts taken and cheap humor employed (the bumbling sheriff at the helm of a corrupt and belligerent police force is named Buster Highman) without enough of a payoff. After nearly four hundred pages, when it was all said and done I was still more captured by the buzz of the idea of a book about an Amish werewolf than I was by the pull of what I'd actually read. Kornwolf is easily an improvement over Tristan Egolf's previous works, and it no doubt will solidify his reputation as one of America's best young writers that never was.
Eric J Herboth
Eric J. Herboth is the founder, publisher and Managing Editor of LAS magazine. He is a magazine editor, freelance writer, bike mechanic, commercial pilot, graphic designer, International Scout enthusiast and giver of the benefit of the doubt. He currently lives in rural central Germany with his two best friends, dog Awahni and cat Scout.
See other articles by Eric J Herboth.
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