Carnivorous Lunar Activities by Max Booth III
Publisher: Cinestate | Release Date: Feb. 26, 2019 | Pages: 272
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’ve dug Max Booth III’s work for a while now, although such work has for me mostly consisted of his short stories and the books he’s published as editor-in-chief for Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing. His piece in the Garden of Fiends anthology has stuck with me for a while, and it’s been nearly two years since I read that one — it was sick and creepy and uncomfortable in an anthology about drug addiction that was all about making readers discomfited. Max’s work freaking stood out even there. When word hit that Cinestate was publishing his comedic werewolf novel through their Fangoria Presents line, I knew it was going to be an absolute must-read.
I had certain expectations about Carnivorous Lunar Activities. I expected it to be funny, first and foremost — hell, it’s billed as a comedy, so there better some laughs — but it also had to be gory, creepy, and uncomfortable. It is Max freaking Booth III we’re talking about, after all.
Well, folks, I got what I expected. I got exactly what I wanted. And I got even a little bit more for good measure. Carnivorous Lunar Activities hit all the sweet spots, and Booth delivered a book that is supremely enjoyable, briskly paced, laugh out loud funny, and packed in a few scenes that surprised me and had me squirming.
The set-up and execution are deceptively simple, and that’s part of why it works so damn well. Ted and Justin are old friends, although they haven’t spoken in a few years when Justin calls out of the blue. Justin has some important stuff to talk about and Ted agrees to go to his house, hoping to help, and hoping to get his mind off his own troubles. Ted’s wife has just left him and, as it turns out, Justin has some troubles all his own. He’s a werewolf now, and he wants Ted to kill him, even has a target painted on his chest over his heart so Ted can’t miss and has himself chained to a ship’s anchor. Of course, Justin has to work at convincing Ted, who immediately doubts his friend is actually a werewolf rather than just a haggard looking nutjob on a bender.
And that, right there, is the bulk of Carnivorous Lunar Activities — it’s two guys drinking PBR in the basement they used to hang out in as kids, shooting the shit, sharing stories and commiserating, and Justin catching Ted up on the last few months of his current troubles. Justin is our storyteller and Ted is our point of view into all of it, echoing our disbelief, questioning the validity of Justin’s predicament and remembrances. We’re locked in the basement with these guys, eavesdropping on one long night’s worth of conversation, and it’s remarkably fascinating.
We learn everything we need to know about Ted and Justin through their dialogue, watching as the years separating them dissolve and they fall back into their regular rhythms. There’s a smoothness to their conversation that never feels less than authentic. Booth has a knack for writing dialogue and as the centerpiece of this story it sells the whole damn thing. He invests each man with their own distinct voices, their own speech patterns and syntax, and following along with their discussions is an absolute joy. Ted and Justin joke, sure, but there’s also plenty of real emotion being shared between the two. We’re meeting both of them at their absolute lowest points in life, both of them wanting to die for very different reasons, consumed by guilt over their indiscretions, their urges, and their selfishness. Carnivorous Lunar Activities is an easy read, and for the most part it’s kept pretty light…but when Booth lands an emotional punch, he knocks your fucking teeth out. There’s a rawness to the nerves exposed between these men and their desperation, and there were a few instances where we see, completely unfiltered, just how low they’ve sunk. Those moments were like a kick to the crotch, and actually took my breath away.
Booth knows that in order to sell the supernatural angle, he first has to sell you on the people. Have no doubt, Ted and Justin are real, honest to god human beings. It’s hard not to get invested in their problems, even if they are ultimately self-made problems.
And then shit hits the fan big-time…
Carnivorous Lunar Activities is Max Booth III’s Spielberg moment. As with the director’s Jaws, Booth gives you little peeks at the monster through Justin’s words, but he’s careful not to reveal everything too soon. It’s not until the book’s final quarter that Booth unveils the moment we’ve all been waiting for, the singular moment Justin’s story has been building toward, Ted’s moment of truth and whether or not he can do what his friend asked of him. It’s a climax that freaking delivers, fully and unabashedly, chockfull of gore, mayhem, and insanity. Honestly, it’s beautiful in just how twisted and fucked-up things get, and the book’s final third is a marvelous romp of blood, guts, and carnage.
It’s a terrific ode to one of horror’s most popular staples and an exhibition of just how much Booth loves werewolves in all their rabid, bloodthirsty nastiness. It’s also one hell of a story about the bond between two men, the enduring love shared between lifelong boyhood friends, these chosen brothers, even if they have gone their separate ways.
Word has it, this book’s in development as a movie for Fangoria’s film division, which only makes sense. Booth’s writing is cinematic and his dialogue tack-sharp, which make this book highly filmable and screen-ready. But as even the characters themselves joke of their own Hollywood potential, if the producers don’t have the budget for Justin’s ship anchor, I’ll boycott the movie.