Buy it now from Lethe Press
The day I’m writing this—December 4th—is my late
partner’s birthday, always a time of bittersweet rememberance for me, as is the
whole holiday season. I try to participate, but my heart simply isn’t in it
anymore. Perhaps this wasn’t the best time to read Robert McDiarmid’s The
House of Wolves, which sees the two main characters suffering from the same
David and Roy have both been damaged by the loss of their
respective partners. Roy immerses himself in teaching fifth grade while David
turns away from the belief system that had sustained both his partner and their
housemates. But the five men who lived with David and his late partner Richard
are more than housemates—they are essential parts of each others social,
physical and emotional beings, taking their philosophy from the Saanich, a
Native American tribe. And they must accept Roy as one of their own if he and
David are to have a successful relationship.
Make no mistake, this is an interesting read, if for nothing
else than the Native American philosophy and its approach to end of life
matters—highly ritualistic with honor and respect for both the departed and
those remaining, all about animals and spirits and nature and man’s
interconnection with his surroundings. And McDiarmid does an incredible job of
making this complex value system understandable to readers who don’t have prior
experience with that culture.
However, if you’re looking for a traditional storyline with
conflict and resolution, you won’t find it here. We know from the beginning
that the others in the house will accept Roy. In fact, the entire plot is built
around bringing him into the fold, so there is no real threat that the expected
outcome won’t occur. There is no conflict to resolve, but that appears to be
the author’s intent. And that doesn’t mean it’s boring. The focus is on the
process, the ritual, and the examination of a communal, non-monogamous
lifestyle that, in many respects, should be a model for all gay men. Because
when all is said and done, no one is going to look out for us except us.
I wish, though, that McDiarmid would have fleshed out some
of the minor characters in the house a bit more. Roy and David are certainly
well-done, as is Marlin—also a teacher and, perhaps, the one in the house
closest in character to Richard, their late leader. And occasionally (to be
expected when dealing in philosophical matters, I suppose), McDiarmid lapses
into lecturing. Too much telling instead of showing. But those are very minor
quibbles when considering the work as a whole.
Despite my personal poor timing with reading The House of
Wolves, it’s an absorbing study of Native American culture as well as an
interesting, if slightly idealized, look at the relationships between men.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler