Review: The Better to Kiss You With by Michelle Osgood

The Better to Kiss You With by Michelle Osgood (April 21, 2016); 182 pages.  Available from Interlude Press here.

This is the story of Deanna, who works for a company that runs a werewolf role-playing game called “Wolf’s Run,” and who falls for her very sexy neighbor called Jamie, who turns out—in a weird coincidence–to be an actual werewolf.

Things get intense when Deanna gets stalked by a person on the Wolf’s Run message boards who claims to be an actual werewolf (they are EVRYWHERE!) angry about the portrayal of werewolves by the game. Deanna appeals for support to her best friend Nathan and—eventually—to Jamie, since the stalking becomes terrifying because, well, it’s STALKING.  Things escalate—there’s frighteningly bloody stalker photographs, and actual blood, and creepy leering orange eyes—and everything comes to a head at the annual role-playing competition hosted by Wolf’s Run.  It’s night, and there are hundreds of fans crowded into a small area, many of whom will be running around in the dark woods howling like wolves and trying to win a prize.  Crywolf, Deanna’s stalker, appears to be there, but slips into the crowd before Deanna can do anything about it and, well, you probably see a confrontation coming, and you’re probably on the right track (yes, that’s a wolf-on-a-scent-trail-joke… it’s probably lame because I don’t get many opportunities to make those).

This is a tense story—not only does it have the will-they-won’t-they-budding-romance appeal of a good love story, but it has this jarringly-thrilling other plotline about the wolf-guy stalking the girl-girl, like Gamergate, but with fangs. I read this in a couple large gulps, because I needed to know what was going to happen in both plotlines, and because it was just that kind of shivery fun.

It’s probably no secret by now that I balk at supernatural stuff; I may be the only 45-year-old American lesbian who wasn’t into Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  But this novel works so well for me, despite my anti-supernatural prejudice—mostly because the plot, the characters, the ideas, they all have lives outside of the supernatural thing.  (When I was an undergrad creative writing major at a…ahem… snobby private university with a kilt-wrapped theme and a Scottish founder… no names mentioned here, but the initials were CMU… we writing students were taught that “genre” stories were bad because they usually eschewed the fundamentals of good storytelling… not so this one, folks, so CMU can go fly a kite, which is more awful a wish than it sounds, because of the kilts and the wind.)  The world of this story is incredibly believable. The characters are people in whom you want to invest your faith and love (boy, did I love Nathan, the BBF (I don’t mean BFF, nor do I mean your clichéd Will & Grace GBF, but a BBF, a bi best friend with his own real life and personality)).  In fact, Nathan is a great example of why this novel works so well: werewolves, bi best friends, lesbian love interests… it all has the potential to become cliché, too easily dealt with, usable for the story’s purposes, but it just doesn’t.  This story doesn’t use its characters, but lets them be who they are, do what they will, even if it means that they grow fangs and fur.

The supernatural part is present, but it’s not the only important thing, and doesn’t dictate how you can read this story—you can read it because of the werewolves, the lesbians, the were-lesbians, or just the dang good storytelling.

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