Flesh and Blood
‘Talulla Rising,’ a Novel by Glen Duncan
If literature is lacinato kale, genre is gelato. Despite regular critical attempts to reconstruct this outdated food pyramid, the base holds strong. Fortunately, thanks to a surge in literary molecular gastronomy, readers can enjoy an ever wider array of broccoli rabe (or brussels sprout, or Swiss chard) ice cream. When cooked by mad word scientists like Glen Duncan — whose new horror novel, “Talulla Rising,” is a sequel to “The Last Werewolf” — this harmonic hybrid delivers sweet (plot), salty (character), sour (emotional pathos), bitter (psychological probity) and umami (stylistic and linguistic panache). If books were required to list the nutritional value of their contents, Duncan’s sumptuously gluttonous werewolf saga would rank as high in pure cane sugar as it does in omega-3s.
“Talulla Rising” powers up where “The Last Werewolf” concluded, which means it, and this review, will be unavoidably full of spoilers for people who haven’t read the first book. Talulla Demetriou, Duncan’s werewolf heroine, has fallen on bad times. Her werewolf soul mate, Jake Marlowe, has been killed by the World Organization for the Control of Occult Phenomena. Despite a supposed werewolf inability to reproduce, she learns she’s pregnant with Jake’s twins. Sequestered and gestating in rural Alaska with her “familiar” (a trusted human helper), she’s discovered by vampires in the midst of labor: one twin out, the second safely in. The vamps abduct her minutes-old son, leaving Talulla, after she delivers her daughter, the book-long challenge of retrieving him. Duncan’s throbbing, fornication-crazy plot defies easy encapsulation, but is best described as a gleeful three-way between Raymond Chandler’s entire oeuvre, Anne Rice’s vampire novels and Umberto Eco’s “Foucault’s Pendulum.” Proust, as usual, is watching from the corner.
What distinguishes Talulla from your standard werewolf is that she worries. In the face of cultural expectations, Talulla is a humiliated failure. (A young drifter she kidnaps in Alaska, and plans to eat when the moon is full, exclaims: “How can you do this? I mean you’re … pregnant!”) She’s lonely. Talulla grapples with the alienating act of emotionless sex with humans — the moral stopgap she’s installed to prevent herself from eating people she loves. (Jake, before he started compartmentalizing, ate his human wife and unborn child.) She must battle the presumed mutual exclusivity of her maternal and her sexual incarnations, in addition to the vampires seeking werewolf blood to fulfill the mandate of an ancient text. Talulla agonizes: Can a woman who kills and consumes innocent people and craves near-constant sex — often with strangers or even enemies, so indomitable is her libido — be a fit parent? A mother can be a monster, but can a monster be a mother?