(Dog Horn Publishing, 2010), pbk £9.99
The Wolf Stepped Out is a character study of a man straddling the threshold of madness in a world which at best cares little and at worst deliberately aggravates his psychosis. The titular “wolf” is Jason Irvine, a thirty-something former rock musician of the most uncompromising kind now facing a life without music, prospects, family, or his beloved Rosa. Mired in depression and disgust at the world around him, Jason is a man ashamed and defeated, working night-security at a frozen food depot and living with house-mates who manage the not-inconsiderable feat of surpassing his desperation. Jason abhors the world he inhabits, but his hatreds are those of the precocious young adolescent – consumerism is a religion born of shallow worshippers, art colleges churn out clones, all employers try to own him, television and advertisements are rife with false hope, and even pasteurised milk is not truly fresh. Such are his disappointments, he wishes desperately to be devoid of feeling but every fresh rejection, violence, new romance gone terribly awry delivers further devastation. Jason turns from the quotidian horrors of his life to divining paths to a higher plane, the latter through deciphering messages in graffiti, the interstices on the ground, and the litter that blows by:
Today the cracks made themselves known… He was lurking around the Zone, lured by the patterns locked into the pavement….. A web was formed, like protein seeking fronds of fungi seep within the soil so the cracks roved across the slabs and walls. They formed a cryptic alphabet; the cuneiform scrawl of his goddess unfolded before his eyes.
It is in these descriptions of post-industrial decay, so evident in every Scottish city, that this novella is strongest. Jason seeks a comfortable madness, but the reader realises before he does that no comfort is to be had.
The gigs Jason’s old band played are described as “psychologically charged, a deliberate attempt to confuse, provoke, disturb and put off the audience.” One gets the sense Migman tries to do the same with this book. The Wolf Stepped Out‘s loathing of the modern world is persistent, its chronology wilfully fractured, its willingness to explore the darkest recesses of disappointment and lunacy inexorable. Jason finds in the iniquities of the capitalist world all the causes one needs to go mad, but as a type of social critique he appears to aspire to, his targets are too scattergun and obvious to be truly piquant. In what is, perhaps, an attempt at pre-emptive self-mythologising, the author warns us at the start: “This book is a work of fiction. Anything you can’t handle is therefore your own problem. …That said, we all like to be entertained–so if you can deal with it, read on. If you can’t, then it’s tough.” In truth, the book is so clichéd in the objects of its ire and so unrelenting in its bleakness that it runs little risk of either offence or entertainment. Persistently oscillating between the twin poles of misanthropy (“There he had to watch their ugly faces as they slurped and masticated their way through the terrible offerings designated as ‘food’”) and melodrama (“as though it was he who’d supplied the heroin and pushed each syringe into Tommy’s vein. He who’d driven the teenager out of the nest of wounds and into hell”), the novel captures well a particularly masculine form of absolute despair and self-deception. We all know a Jason Irvine. Exploring the same territory as Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle or Philip Roth’s Mickey Sabbath, but with an urban, post-industrial twist, The Wolf Stepped Out works best as a passable study of the cousinhood of self-loathing and madness.