Milo Byers is a young dropout who makes a living working as a bouncer and stealing cars on the side. In his hometown of Lexington, Kentucky, an anonymous graffiti artist going by the name “Nightwolf” has gained attention for his acts of vigilantism. Milo, believing Nightwolf to be his long-lost brother Aaron, seeks him out while trying to dodge the local thugs with a vendetta against him.
“It started with a miracle. It was a useless miracle, but it still counted as a jaw-dropper, a total malfunction of reason and time. That was the year of miracles.”
Nightwolf is part crime novel, part coming-of-age story. Milo is a small-time criminal seeking out his brother who he believes to be a mysterious wannabe superhero. However, the story focuses mostly on Milo’s relationship with his mother, his friends, and his neighbors. A major reason why Milo wants to find his brother is because of his concern for his mother and her deteriorating health.
Religion is a fixation for Milo. Many of the people around him are heavily involved in religious movements. A fellow small-time criminal by the name of Thomas the Prophet is a leader of a chapter of Jews for Jesus, seemingly more because of the contrarian nature of the sect than any deeply held beliefs. As an adult, Milo finds himself involved with Otto Larkin who drinks poison as a rite much like members of the Holiness movement.
Nightwolf is the kind of book I find frustrating to discuss. I find the themes fascinating and there are some great moments in it, but the story completely failed to grab me.
The story seems simple at first glance, but the relationships between Milo and the people around him become pretty complex. Despite that, many feel like they didn’t matter in the end. For example, as big of a role as Milo’s mother plays in the first half of the story, her death in the second half is only mentioned in one paragraph and her loss seems to have little impact. Likewise, Nightwolf is the title character but he disappears for large parts of the story. This wouldn’t be a problem, but Milo also seems to forget about Nightwolf far too easily. The plot line of Milo trying to figure out if Nightwolf is his brother resolves in a way that’s neither satisfying nor frustrating in a meaningful way.
Despite that, it is clear that Willie Davis does have talent. The prose is well-crafted and the characters are often interesting. There are also a lot of compelling parts in the book as well as great moments of humor. One of my favorite parts of the book is where Milo wanders into a class one of his friends is teaching. She tries to save face by saying he’s with an anti-drug program and Milo ends up rambling random facts to the class, most having nothing to do with drugs.
Nightwolf is a book with a lot of potential that I don’t believe it lives up to. While the story has its moments and the prose is excellent, the story often feels empty and subordinate to the themes of the novel. However, I will be looking out for future work from Willie Davis as I believe there’s enough good about this book to expect what he comes out with next to be much better as a whole.