One of my big New Year’s resolutions is to be more open-minded. I wasn’t thinking of that when I first picked up “The Pack,” by Jason Starr. Unfortunately, I was too quick to judge.
In the beginning, I allowed my thoughts to take all kinds of wrong turns, therefore misleading me to believe that werewolves, once again, would now cross Starr’s path, too, and destroy or weaken what little was left of basic human intelligence.
Then, another thought came through loud and clear: Wasn’t it time that the subjects of werewolves, vampires and “the walking dead” were finally eliminated from the threshold of an author’s imagination? Would it be just a game of hit and miss among readers if somehow they could catch the author in the mental act and somehow steer him (or her) away from having such thoughts in the first place?
Contrary to what I deemed obvious at first, “The Pack” turned out to be a terrific read. Prior to this novel, I hadn’t discovered Starr, so I remained clueless as to the content of his other stories, novels and even comic books. I will not make the same mistake twice.
“The Pack” is more than a trio of guys who form a unique (yet eerie) bond. It is more about control, companionship, power, self-confidence and self-satisfaction.
For different reasons the men have become stay-at-home dads. The main character, Simon Burns, unexpectedly gets fired from his job that he has had for seven years.
His boss does not give Simon a reason for his being fired, and it’s all the more frustrating for Simon Burns because he thought he was up for a huge promotion. Instead, someone else lands the new position. Simon, who considers himself a loyal employee and friend of the boss, is angered by his boss’s decision and his cold, abrupt behavior toward him.
It finally sinks in: Simon is jobless, and jobs in Manhattan, N.Y., are very difficult to find. Worry evolves into more worries. His wife, Alison, though briefly empathetic to his loss, cheerfully assumes that he will find other employment and everything will work out for him, her and their three-year-old son, Jeremy.
To add to this problem, the Burns try to save their marriage. They undergo counseling, which encourages them to experiment with more romantic exercises. The real trouble is their lack of communication. They dodge sensitive, emotional issues, thinking that it is best for both to keep them hidden. It seems that each time they start a discussion, they end up feeling furious or depressed, blaming each other for being irresponsible.
However, once Simon and Alison make several adjustments, life for these two neither looks nor seems bleak. Alison goes to work during the day while her husband spends more time with their son visiting the playground, enjoying pizza at a favorite restaurant, playing games at home and taking his son on wild, fast rides in the jogging stroller.
The couple soon discover that this arrangement is faulty.
Life suddenly becomes dangerous. At the playground, Simon meets three men, Michael Ramon, and Charlie, who tell him they, like Simon, are also stay-at-home-dads.
One extremely well-dressed man, Michael, tends to be distant, and the other man, Ramon, is sexy, smooth and way too slick. Michael and Ramon are just too good to be true.
Yet, Simon is intrigued by these guys. They hug each other openly, are not ashamed of being close, stand up for one another and offer support when nobody will.
And occasionally Michael and Ramon gather at Michael’s place for a special brew of German beer of which the recipe has been passed down from generation to generation.
Eventually, the men, the pack, accept Simon, and from then on Simon finds how much he craves steak (he was starting to savor his wife’s vegetarian meals), sometimes refusing to wait for the meat to cook.
He downs stacks of hamburgers (tossing aside many a bun) and steaks as if he can’t get enough.
He runs faster. His speed is so incredibly fast that he is able to reach the next block in a few seconds or pass moving cars and other motorized vehicles in the combustive streets of Manhattan.
He loves the speed and the numerous love-making sessions between him and his wife, a change that frees Simon to take charge of any romantic act, which, in turn, fascinates Alison.
Alison is pleased to see how Simon is becoming more confident and powerful, more aggressive than he normally would be around his wife and others.
But there’s always a catch, isn’t there? Starr holds his reader to the very last page. It’s the kind of novel that people want to read and finish quickly, then begin all over again.
And believe it or not, Starr throws in humor at the most odd times. I must admit, the ending was surprising, and when I found out that Starr has a sequel coming out in June—”The Craving”—I know I will read it and be hooked.
For those who might want to know, the paperback edition of “The Pack” is to be released in April.
Starr currently is involved with several projects. He is working on a thriller that is not connected with “The Pack.” Noted for his crime novels, Starr is also the author of “Panic Attack,” “The Follower,” “Twisted City,” “Hard Feelings,” “Nothing Personal” and many other novels in crime fiction, plus the “bust trilogy”: “Bust,” “Slide” and “The Max.”
Starr also has had some of his books published in France, Germany, Spain and Russia, and his next comic book—a “Punisher Max” special issue for Marvel Comics—is to be released early this year.
Film rights have been purchased and someday his novels will be featured on the silver screen.
He has a Master’s degree in playwriting, and some of his influences include David Mamet, Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett, as well as authors Paul Auster, Patricia Highsmith and James M. Cain. Starr has always loved science fiction and praises writers Philip K. Dick, Dean Koontz, Ira Levin and Stephen King.
Of “The Pack,” he says: “I’m fascinated by the wolf man mythology. I wanted readers to believe that the events from ‘The Pack’ could actually happen.”
And that, gentle reader, is exactly what I am thinking could be most frightening.
Carol Wright is a freelance writer and resides in Winfield.