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The Wolf at the Door / Jameson Currier

Chelsea Station Editions / April 2010
Reviewed by: Vince A. Liaguno

Ghosts haunt a gay guesthouse and prompt its proprietor to re-examine his spirituality and the meaning of life in Jameson Currier’s latest novel, The Wolf at the Door.

Avery Greene Dalyrymple III is a middle-aged gay man whose everyday life is a series of small calamities revolving around the New Orleans guesthouse he runs with his ex-(life) partner. Overworked and overwrought on the business front while underwhelmed in the romance department with his current beau, Hank, the last thing Avery needs is to play innkeeper to a bunch of lost souls who have come to regard Le Petite Paradis (grammatical misnomer deliberate) as a holding station for the deceased.

What follows is a delightfully spooky, often kooky, gay vision quest of sorts that finds Avery reevaluating his belief system, questioning his sanity, and more than occasionally dipping into the better bourbons and whiskeys on tap in the guesthouse’s adjacent café.

The Wolf at the Door is the perfect expansion of Currier’s previous genre effort, his Black Quill Award-winning collection of gay ghost stories A Haunted Heart and Other Tales. He continues to skillfully combine the supernatural with the more recurring themes of modern gay literature — the creation of extended families of friends and lovers as support systems, the struggle of gay men of a certain age for societal relevance, even the lingering specter of AIDS.

Prominent throughout The Wolf at the Door is the exploration of religion and faith. From Avery’s first otherworldly encounter that manifests itself as a sexual tryst to the uproarious denouement in which topless lesbians chant voodoo incantations, Currier shines with his deft balance between Avery’s thought-provoking spiritual journey and the acerbic wittiness of his inner monologues:

“But why would a soul want to hang around this place? And why now, after all the years we had lived here did they have to show up? Heaven and hell were just human creations. Human interpretation. A state of mind. Maybe everyone before us had gotten it all wrong. Maybe souls never departed earth’s atmosphere, just lived on in eternity outside the perspective of time and vision. Maybe ghosts of the living were like humidity, rising and falling according to the whims of Mother Nature, Father Sun, and the orbit of Planet Earth. Or maybe we all needed more fiber in our diet to make sure that we did not disturb anyone else in another life.”

As the paranormal pressure surrounding the guesthouse is amplified, Avery opens his mind and the long-renounced homiletic rhetoric of his Southern evangelist upbringing slowly yields to a decidedly more diverse and flexible cafeteria spiritualism, “a mumbo-jumbo gumbo of different beliefs and superstitions.” Currier wisely employs a subtle tone and pace to Avery’s spiritual awakening – using most of the novel’s duration to chart his progression from would-be atheist to firm believer in an elusive higher power – so that when Avery finally arrives at a place of spiritual conclusion, the moment never feels forced or heavy-handed:

“Was this desperation or true faith? I thought, sitting on the edge of the bed, going over in my mind my newest theory, my newest insight into the problems at hand. What if the ghosts and God were related somehow? What if it all had to do with the psychic consciousness and something beyond it, what the mind of the living believed before the soul died, whether the religion was Catholic, Baptist, or Buddhist? What if God created ghosts in the same way he created men and women and animals and plants – but for ghosts, he had created windows of passages from one world to the next to allow them to pass along meaning or messages from the world of the divine and the afterlife to the world of the living? Of course his theory meant that I must accept the fact of the existence of a Higher Power and that life was not just a random clashing of misadventures and unlikely coincidences as I had always felt my life has warranted and exhibited. This wasn’t accidental. God had planned it. And the ghosts, in a sense, proved to me His existence.”

The Wolf at the Door is imbued with a deep sense of history, with several interweaving stories from the 1820’s Louisiana slave trade that parallel some of the characters’ present-day lives. Although some of the characters from these stories appear in ghostly form, we learn about them mostly through a series of old journal entries. Although in moderation these lend a sense of historical authenticity to the proceedings, at times these extended passages slow down the momentum and take the reader out of the main narrative for a bit too long. By the novel’s third act, additional citations from newspaper clippings and an unpublished manuscript also clog up Currier’s otherwise steady pacing, but it’s one small criticism in an otherwise well-executed tale.

With an eclectic and entertaining cast of characters and strong sense of setting, Currier may not even realize himself that he’s got the makings of a potential series here — his very own paranormal French Quarter-set Tales of the City. Like Armistead Maupin’s Mouse Tolliver, Currier’s Avery Dalyrymple is larger-than-life and intricately flawed, and the fact that he just can’t seem to get out of his own way makes him primed for misadventure and gay mayhem.

And, like Maupin’s iconic San Franciscan tableau of Barberry Lane, Currier’s Dumaine Street guesthouse and adjacent Café Surtout become fictional focal points of Big Easy authenticity here. One of Currier’s strengths has always been the ability to soak his narrative in a rich, authentic ambiance and The Wolf at the Door is no exception, with sentences that resonate with the decadent rhythms of the French Quarter and paragraphs that positively drip with Southern gothic moodiness. His fully-realized locale comes even further to life when set against the culinary backdrop of the café, with savory descriptions of the cayenne-drenched Creole cuisine adding texture and local spice to his fictional world.

While The Wolf at the Door is less likely to scare and more apt to beguile, genre fans will nonetheless find plenty to appreciate in Currier’s otherworldly version of It’s a Wonderful Life fused with all the ensemble wit of Tales of the City and the regional gothic texture of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. Savor this one like a bowlful of spicy jambalaya and a sniffer of fine aged bourbon on a hot, humid night.

Purchase The Wolf at the Door by Jameson Currier.

Posted on Monday, August 16, 2010 at 12:38PM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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