Three terrifying tales await readers in ‘The Werewolf at Dusk’


Make sure you’re strapped in and holding on to your seat before you crack open David Small’s new graphic novel, “The Werewolf at Dusk and Other Stories.”
Small, who has made his living primarily as a children’s book illustrator, has never been afraid to venture into darker territory. His first graphic novel, “Stitches: A Memoir,” was an autobiographical look at his torturous childhood living with abusive parents. It was a finalist for the 2009 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, but literary insiders said at the time that the reason it didn’t win was its disturbing content.
Despite being a graphic novel, it’s likely Small’s new book will be marketed for young adults.
The first short story, “The Werewolf at Dusk,” by Lincoln Michel, a talented writer noted for his strange fiction, is about a werewolf facing the vagaries of old age. Small illustrates a werewolf viewing his countenance in a mirror, accompanied by Michel’s poetic writing, “Mangy gray fur on wrinkled skin that clings to my skeleton like a dirty towel. Liver spots on my hairless belly.”
Readers could conclude that Small, who’s nearly 80, is considering his own mortality. His sparse line drawing of a howling werewolf, coupled with Michael’s prophetic line, “Perhaps this is what we all transform into in the end: a tired old dog … barking impotently at the dark sky,” warns us to consider what will happen when we reach old age.
The next story, “A Walk in the Old City,” written by Small, is a Kafkaesque tale of an aging psychiatrist who takes long walks in a city and becomes lost. We learn these walks only happen in his dreams, which is symbolic of confusion.
The psychiatrist meets an older gentleman who takes him home for a meal, leading him across an old bridge suspended by giant spiders. Here, we see the surreal dreams turn into full-blown nightmares. The spiders, which are as big as dogs, are eyeing him at his next meal. However this tale ends, it can’t be good.
Alongside the story, Small uses his skills as an illustrator to terrify readers. He should have included a warning not to read the book before bedtime.

The last section is a reworking of famous French writer Jean Ferry’s “Le Tigre Mondain,” a surrealist short story about a tiger and its trainer, who performs a circus-like trick of submission that involves a baby from the audience.
The short tale of thinly veiled barbarism disguised as mesmerism follows a man in 1920s Paris attending a music hall production. These phantasmagorical theater shows were all the rage in pre- and post-World War I Britain and France, but in this story, the theatergoer sees something much more than casual entertainment.
What makes this story so chilling is the appearance of “a small man” in the audience who, with his toothbrush mustache, looks very much like a young Adolf Hitler. As the story progresses, the theatergoer sees the show’s events in a much more menacing light than the rest of the audience. When he leaves the show, he sees the tiger trainer and the small man having drinks in a café, and a bit later, he sees a group of Nazi thugs beating up a Jewish person.
Small’s illustrations represent the quiet dread surrounding the rise of fascism. Small writes in his introduction to the book: “Ferry is long dead. There is no one to consult about the origins of this story. But it strikes me as the prescient vision of someone who has lived through the early days of change and mutability, just before the carnage that swept over Europe.”
This story is really about the ability to see wrongdoing but continue on as if nothing is happening. The theatergoer is a “Mitläufer,” a German word that’s most commonly used to describe the passive followers of Nazism.
Once again, Small plays with dark themes in his newest graphic novel, but he takes it in a more surreal and horror-esque direction than he has before. The author, who won a prestigious Caldecott Medal for his illustration of Judith St. George’s book “So You Want to Be President?”, lives in southwest Michigan with his spouse, Sarah Stewart, who is also a children’s book writer. Small has illustrated more than 40 books during his lengthy career.
For those who aren’t familiar with Small’s body of work, it’s important to note that not all of it is dark, and some of it will steal your heart.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

Connect with us