by Amanda Nevada DeMel (@shtuff4avacadoes)
The Tribe is a unique horror novel. It’s not a gross-out horror and it doesn’t have a continuous stream of terrors. What differentiates it from other quiet horrors is the emphasis on the Jewish way of life. Taking place in the early 1980s, memories (and survivors) of the Holocaust are very much present in the story.
BEHIND THE PEN
Bari Wood is the author of seven fiction novels. Her first novel, The Killing Gift, published in 1975, won the Putnam Prize. Her next novel, Twins, cowritten with Jack Geasland, was published in 1977. It was later republished in 1988 under the title Dead Ringers, coinciding with the release of David Cronenberg’s film adaptation. The Tribe, published in 1981, draws from Jewish folklore and experience, which are wildly underrepresented in the horror genre.
A NO-SPOILER SUMMARY
Belzec, 1945. A group of Jews have not only survived the concentration camp, but also seem to have thrived.
New York, 1980s. The survivors have children and grandchildren, and things appear to be going well. Until the son of Jacob Levy, acting leader of the Jewish community, is brutally murdered. What follows is a tale of survival against the odds of trauma, bigotry, love, and maybe even supernatural forces.
VOICES FROM WITHIN
A recurring conversation was the portrayal of various minorities. Wood wrote primarily about Jews and Black people, and while the main characters are nuanced, many members commented on the stereotypes used for all the others. Considering the book was written in the ‘70s, it’s understandable that our modern sensibilities cringed at the racism and microaggressions.
Another common complaint was about the monster. Those who knew some Jewish folklore immediately figured out what was going on, while those who did not were on the edge of their seats until the reveal. This didn’t detract from enjoyment of the book, but it did create an interesting dichotomy of understanding and expectation. Jennifer Collins, also known by her screen name wytwavedarling, raved, “I’ve read a lot of fiction that’s brought in Jewish mythology and culture, and I’m not sure when I last saw it done this well, to where it’s so clear to me in terms of meaning (I’m not Jewish) and also doesn’t bog down the story or characters. There’s quite a bit, and yet, it all reads well, and that aspect has really impressed me.”
Even accounting for the qualms of stereotyping and pacing, HOWLS members thoroughly enjoyed the book. It provided a look into the underrepresented realm of Jewish mysticism in horror (and speculative fiction as a whole), and it developed the characters beautifully. The Tribe has even made it onto some lists of favorite reads of 2021. For those of us who wouldn’t consider it a favorite, we all still agreed that it was well worth experiencing. The depicted depths of trauma and interpersonal relationships, the feminist leanings, and the incorporation of Jewish lifestyles made for a memorable, enjoyable reading.
WELCOME TO THE BLURBS: HOWL SOCIETY MEMBERS’ REVIEWS IN THEIR OWN WORDS
- “I never thought I’d learn so much about Jewish tradition through an 80s horror paperback. I enjoyed the cultural lesson as much as I did the story—a thrilling page-turner with flawed characters, gritty settings, and a touch of ancient mysticism.”
- “A riveting exploration of the horror around who belongs and who doesn’t, crafted from occasionally messy clay…”
- “Wood explores character in such an interesting way, diving into loss and grief with all the complexity of an underwater cave. The morally grey actions of every group in this book ask a lot of questions of the reader without a necessarily right answer. I also appreciated the amount of Jewish culture included and learned a lot!”