At one point in Ruth Emmie Lang’s debut novel “Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance,” one of her characters warns another to not try too hard while trying to impress someone.
If only Lang took her own advice.
Lang tries really hard to impress you — to get you to like Weylyn Gray, a boy who grew up with wolves.
First, she kills off his real human parents in a freak accident. (Surely that’s got to score some sympathy points.)
If making Weylyn an orphan doesn’t do the trick, she gives him an awesome sidekick (a unicorn pig Weylyn names Merlin) and the ability to perform real magic. This is a kid who can talk to animals and start blizzards, stop tornadoes, revive plants and start downpours.
What’s more, Lang invents nine character witnesses for the sole purpose of trying to get you to like Weylyn.
Through Weylyn’s doctor Daniel Proust, teacher Mrs. Meg Lowry, sister Lydia Kramer, mayor Bobby Quinn Jr., boss Duane Fordham, neighbor Roarke, nephew Micah Barnes, butcher Nelson Penlore, and friend Mary Penlore’s first-person narratives, the jury understands Gray — a man who becomes more fantastical and extraordinary with each retelling that his feats almost read like a bunch of Chuck Norris jokes by the end.
Through their words, Weylyn Gray is a humble giant of a man, Lang’s own Paul Bunyan. (Like Bunyan, Gray was also a part-time lumberjack in one of his past lives.)
Weylyn made their lives more interesting, sometimes giving it color when it didn’t have any (One of Weylyn’s magical abilities is to create rainbows out of thin air).
But still, “Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstances” feels and sounds surprisingly ordinary next to Superman or the X-Men or Mowgli from “The Jungle Book” or Paul Bunyan or Boo Radley from “To Kill A Mockingbird” or Tom Sawyer — that the tall tales of Weylyn Gray may not stand the test of time.
The alternating prospectives, which all sound the same, make it hard to connect with a single character, but their attitudes color how you see Weylyn. Those who knew Weylyn treat Weylyn as a novelty initially (the boy who doesn’t sit in chairs, stops tornados with his bare hands, jars the light of fireflies or patches his roof with cobwebs). To them, Weylyn sounded like an alien — a person who didn’t really belong in their world even though he made their lives more magical.
To them, Weylyn was the best kind of human (like Boo Radley from Harper Lee’s book “To Kill a Mockingbird”) — the kind of guy who “don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy.”
It’d be a sin to hurt him, Lang seems to be saying, just like it’d be a sin to criticize Lang’s young adult novel. Like Lee’s mockingbirds or the bird (I mean wolf) boy Weylyn, Lang created “Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstances” to be enjoyed. Who are we to shoot them down?