Heaven knows, we need never be ashamed of our wolfish cravings. . . .
Bristly, sensitive, and meat-hungry Pip is a robust young whelp, an orphan born under a full moon. Between hunting escaped convicts alongside zombified soldiers, trying not to become one of the hunted himself, and hiding his hairy hands from the supernaturally beautiful and haughty Estella, whose devilish moods keep him chomping at the bit, Pip is sure he will die penniless or a convict like the rest of his commonly uncommon kind.
But then a mysterious benefactor sends him to London for the finest werewolf education money can buy. In the company of other furry young gentlemen, Pip tempers his violent transformations and devours the secrets of his dark world. When he discovers that his beloved Estella is a slayer of supernatural creatures, trained by the corpse-like vampire Miss Havisham, Pip’s desire for her grows stronger than his midnight hunger for rare fresh beef. But can he risk his hide for a truth that will make Estella his forever—or will she drive one last silver stake through his heart?
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About the Author
A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, Sherri lives in Western Massachusetts with her nearly-perfect husband, and their charming actor son, amazing violinist daughter, a crafty corgi (Pembroke Welsh), and a very special pug. She has written historical romance for Dell under the name Sherri Browning and contemporary romance for Kensington under the name Sherri Erwin.
Read an Excerpt
My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my occasionally altered infant tongue could make of either name nothing longer or more explicit than Pip, sometimes Yip. So I called myself Pip, on occasion Yip, and came to be called Pip. I give Pirrip as my father’s family name on the authority of his tombstone and my sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery, who married the silversmith. As I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them, my first fancies regarding what they were like were unreasonably derived from their tombstones. The enormity of my father’s stone, the shape of the letters, gave me an odd idea that he was fierce and stout, requiring great effort to hold back even in death, with coarse black hair curling over every inch of him when the moon was full— for he was my sire in the truest sense, responsible for the beast within me, according to Mrs. Joe. From the character and turn of the inscription, “Also Georgiana, Wife of the Above,” I drew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sickly, entirely human.
The wolfish nature was passed from male to male down the line, Mrs. Joe said, almost with a grudging air by way of explanation. There had been known to be female werewolves, but only as infected by a bite and never by birth (again with the bitter tone). And birth, or at least infancy, was quite a trial for my kind, or so it seemed by the five little stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside my parents’ graves, and were sacred to the memory of five little brothers of mine, who gave up exceedingly early in that universal struggle.
I believed that they had all been born as pink gasping babes, unable to cope with the violence of transformation when the first moon came and proved too strong a foe for their inferior infant bodies. I, on the other hand, was born under a full moon as a robust pup, and stronger in wolf form to handle the force of the change when it next came on, for experience had taught me that werewolf to human was a much less traumatic transformation than human to wolf.
Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within twenty miles of the sea. My first vivid and broad impression of the identity of things seems to have been gained on a memorable raw evening under a full moon. At such a time I found out for certain that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard, where Philip Pirrip, late of this parish, and also Georgiana, wife of the above, were buried. And that Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias, and Roger, infant children of the aforesaid, also dead, were buried. And that the small bundle of shivers feeling his bones shift and grind, his skin stretch under a sudden flurry of hair, growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip.
“Hold your noise!” cried a terrible voice as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch. “Keep still, you little devil, or I’ll bite your throat out!”
A beast of a man, all in coarse grey, with a great silver cuff on his leg, stood suddenly before me. He was missing a hat and shoes, and had an old rag tied round his head. From the looks of him, he had been soaked in water, smothered in mud, lamed by stones, cut by flints, stung by nettles, and torn by briars. He limped, shivered, glared, and growled. His teeth chattered as he seized me by the chin, and he slowly took on wolflike proportions before my eyes.
“Oh! Don’t bite me, sir,” I pleaded in terror. “Pray don’t do it, srrr.”
“Tell us your name!” said the man. “Quick! Before the power of human speech forsakes us.”
“Pip.” It came out more a yip, as I was increasingly more wolf than boy.
“Once more,” said the man, staring at me with his hungry yellow eyes. “Give it mouth!”
“Pip. Pip, srrr.” The sir turned into an unfortunate snarl. I fought the temptation to roll over on my back, thus demonstrating my vast inferiority and probably sealing my doom.
“Show us where you live,” said the man. “Pint out the place!”
With more paw than hand, I pointed to where our village lay, on the flat in-shore among the alder-trees and pollards, a mile or more from the church. I shouldn’t have come out so late. On full moon nights, my sister usually had Joe lock me in. She would be in fits trying to find me. But the trouble I faced from Mrs. Joe paled in comparison to the fear of what the stranger might do to me, or what I might do out in the marsh when I was not quite myself, or more myself than usual, as it were, considering I was born a wolf.
The man, after looking at me for a moment, nudged me to the ground and sniffed at me, centering on my pockets and eventually tearing out a piece of bread with his teeth. I remained on the ground, on my back, instinctively submissive, trembling while he, on all fours, ate the bread ravenously.
“You young dog,” said the man, licking his lips, “what fat cheeks you ha’ got. Darn me if I couldn’t eat ’em, and if I haven’t half a mind to’t!”
I earnestly expressed my hope that he wouldn’t, or ended up merely whining as my tongue lolled half out of its own accord as I struggled to roll over to a more defensive posture.
“Now lookee here!” said the man. “Where’s your mother?” Being bigger and stronger, even saddled with that band of silver around his leg, he seemed more able than I to hold full transformation at bay. He stood to his full height.
I gestured with a paw.
He started, made a short run, and stopped and looked over his shoulder.
He quickly realised I had pointed at their graves.
“Oh!” he said, coming back. “And is that your father alongside your mother?”
I nodded and forced out the words, relieved to find I was still able. “Him, too. Late of this parish.”
“Ha! Who d’ye live with—supposin’ you’re kindly let to live, which I haven’t made up my mind about?”
“My sister, srrr—Mrs. Joe Garrgery—wife of Joe Garrrgery, the silversmith, srrr.” It was increasingly difficult not to growl.
“Silversmith, eh?” said he. And looked down at his leg.
After darkly looking at his leg and me several times, he pounced, rolled me onto my back, and stood over me, pinning me to the ground under him. His eyes looked most powerfully down into mine, and mine looked most helplessly up into his.
“Now lookee here,” he said. “The question being whether you’re to be let to live. You know what a file is?”
“And you know what wittles is?”
I nodded again.
After each question he bared his teeth so as to give me a greater sense of helplessness and danger.
“You get me a file. And you get me wittles. You bring ’em both to me. Or I’ll tear your heart and liver out.” He took a step away as if to let me up.
I was dreadfully frightened, and so giddy that I struggled to roll back to all fours. I was already nearly in full wolf form and sure to be locked in the moment I returned home. I supposed he was too weak from dragging the silver cuff to hunt his own food, but how was I to do as he bid?
He gave me a knock and I took a most tremendous roll, so that I was under him again. “You bring me, tomorrow morning early, that file and them wittles. You bring the lot to me, at that old battery over yonder. You do it, and you never dare to say a word or dare to make a sign concerning your having seen such a person as me, or any person sumever, and you shall be let to live. You fail, or you go from my words in any partickler, no matter how small it is, and your heart and your liver shall be tore out and ate.
“Now, I ain’t alone, as you may think I am. There’s a young man hid with me, in comparison with which young man I am a angel. That young man hears the words I speak. That young man has a secret way pecooliar to himself, of getting at a pup, and at his heart, and at his liver, and his blood. It is in wain for a pup or boy to attempt to hide himself from that young man. I am keeping that young man from harming you at the present moment, with great difficulty. He’s not like you or I, but something worse, something wicked, and he thirsts for blood. Now, what do you say?”
I tried to say that I would get him the file, and I would get him what broken bits of food I could, and I would come to him at the battery, early in the morning, but all that came out was a low rumble.
“Say Lord strike you dead if you don’t!” said the man.
I howled my agreement, and he let me up.
“Now,” he pursued, “you remember what you’ve undertook, pup, and you get home!”
At the same time, he writhed, his body shuddering, and dropped down to all fours as if finally giving in to the change from man to wolf as he made his way towards the low church wall.
As I saw him go, picking his way among the nettles, and among the brambles that bound the green mounds, he looked in my young eyes as if he were eluding the hands of the dead people stretching up cautiously out of their graves to get a twist upon his ankle and pull him in.
When he came to the low church wall, he got over it in a single pounce, one back leg dragging behind him due to the weight of the silver, which still clung to him, unshakeable. When I saw him turning, I set my face towards home.
I was frightened again, and ran home without stopping.
© 2011 Sherri Browning Erwin
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for An Atlas of Impossible Longing includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
In this reimagining of Charles Dickens’s classic, Great Expectations, Pip is an orphaned young werewolf living with his ill-tempered sister and her gentle husband, the blacksmith Joe Gargery. One fateful night, visiting his parents’ grave under the full moon, Pip encounters a frightening stranger—another werewolf and a convict no less. Too afraid to do anything other than obey the stranger’s instruction, Pip helps this convict and sets in motion of chain of events that will forever change the course of his life. Pip is sent to reside with Miss Havisham, a vampire who was sired and left on her wedding day by the one she loved. She has adopted Estella and raised her as a vampire slayer, to seek revenge on the supernatural creatures that she blames for her ruin. Pip, in awe of Estella’s beauty, falls instantly in love with her despite the fact that she has been trained to hate all “Scapegraces.” When an anonymous benefactor sends Pip to London to become a gentleman, he believes it is his chance to win Estella’s hand. The question that lies ahead is whether Pip will be able to overcome his wolfish ways and turn his once grave expectations for himself into great ones.
TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. In Pip’s world, the term “Scapegraces” is used to define “those of a supernatural sort” (p. 11). What do you think this term implies about the way that creatures like werewolves and vampires were viewed in this society?
2. On page 12, Pip wonders, “Was it a crime to merely be different?” While being a werewolf is simply a condition inherited at birth, vampires prey on the living to increase their population, and yet are “considered civilized and welcome to mix in society.” Is one creature more monstrous than the other? Do both werewolves and vampires have the capacity for good and evil?
3. After being invited to Miss Havisham’s and then later learning of his anonymous benefactor, Pip often feels ashamed of his roots, and of Joe’s commonness even more so than his own Scapegrace status. Yet Joe never seems to exhibit any embarrassment over Pip’s wolfishness. What does this say about each of their characters? What influences the focus of Pip’s shame?
4. When Mrs. Joe dies (the first time), Pip finds what he knows to be evidence of Magwitch’s crime, but he still does not accuse him. Why do you think Pip believes that Magwitch is innocent of this crime when the main piece of evidence points directly to him?
5. Throughout most of the story, Estella is cold-hearted and shows no affection for Pip despite his unwavering love for her. Why should he love someone who could possibly end up killing him in her crusade against Scapegraces? What makes him fall in love with her in the first place? Why do you think Pip continues to pursue someone who will never return his feelings?
6. Pip and Herbert have a very special friendship. Do you think this brotherly love grew out of the wolfish need to be part of a pack? Or something more human?
7. While Miss Havisham is herself a vampire, she has trained Estella in the ways of vampire slaying. Pip wonders “if Miss Havisham weren’t really wishing to be staked by Estella one day in raising her to such an art” (p. 235). Do you agree? Do you think Miss Havisham’s eventual outcome either supports or refutes this opinion? Why does Estella never stake her, if indeed her mission is to kill vampires?
8. Pip is horrified when he finds out the Magwitch has been his anonymous benefactor all along. Why do you think this revelation is so abhorrent to Pip, when he seems so willing to not only protect Magwitch and keep him safe, but to also protect his feelings by not revealing his disappointment?
9. On page 284, Pip explains to Miss Havisham that there are certain Scapegraces who “showed more humanity than the humans.” Discuss which of the Scapegraces behave with the utmost humanity, and which of the human characters exhibit what could be categorized as monstrous behavior?
10. How does the discovery of Estella’s parentage change things for Pip? Does it change your opinion of her?
11. Why is it so easy for Joe and Biddy to forgive Pip after he had neglected them for so many years? Should Joe have been angry that Pip spent so much time visiting Magwitch after he was captured, when he never kept up his visits to Joe like he had promised?
12. Though Estella is able to eventually see the goodness in werewolves, she never changes her opinion of vampires. Why do you think she can pardon and accept most Scapegraces and still seek vengeance against vampires?
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
1. Grave Expectations is a reimagining of Charles Dickens’s classic Great Expectations. Have you read Great Expectations before? If so, how did the supernatural version compare to the classic? What remained the same in this new version of the story? What changed? If not, choose Great Expectations for your next book club pick.
2. Grave Expectations is a literary mash-up—where a fictional classic is retold in present day or with mythical substitutions. Examples include Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or the movie Clueless, which was essentially Jane Austen’s Emma set in Beverly Hills during the 1990s. Try creating a literary mash-up of your own with your book club. Pick a favorite classic and retell the story as though it took place in the present day or with some supernatural characters. The more imaginative, the better!
3. Legends of werewolves and vampires have been carried down through the centuries. How does their depiction in this work compare with your preconceived notions of such supernatural creatures?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
With their parents dead, alpha sister Mrs. Joe being more than twenty years older than her brother has raised Philip "Pip" Pirrip the werewolf. She dominates her younger brother though not a shapeshifter (due to the X chromosome) and for that matter her kindhearted husband Joe Gargery a silversmith. Pip cannot wait to escape the she-tyrant. With that in mind he apprenticed for years as a silversmith under the tutelage of brother-in-law. Now a journeyman, Pip leaves to London where he hopes to be a gentleman. However, he never forgot his childhood friend rowdy Estella. When they meet in London, he wants her, but though she reciprocates she has no time for a submissive werewolf as she is a kill first supernatural slayer mentored by Miss Haversham. This is a fascinating paranormal parody of Great Expectations; Charles Dickens receives the same irreverence as other ninetieth century notables like Charlotte Bronte (see Jane Slayer by Sherri Browning Erwin), and Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith, Emma and the Vampires by Wayne Josephson). The well written but overly complex story line is entertaining but also at times slows down as the reader struggles to understand what is going on especially inside of Pip's head. Still fans of supernatural re-novelization of the classics will enjoy the star-crossed romance between the werewolf and the slayer. Harriet Klausner
While Grave Expectations isn't laugh-out-loud humorous like the first supernatural-classic mashups, the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies series, it is still an enjoyable take on Dickens' 1860 novel. (Based on my one brief encounter with Dickens' writing - David Copperfield - this version is much less tedious and confusing than the original, too.) While the werewolves, vampires, and zombies play clear roles in the story, Dickens' original purpose in writing the novel shines through should readers bother to think about it. This makes Grave Expectations both a nice alternative for reluctant readers struggling through Dickens' prose (though of course it cannot completely replace reading the actual Great Expectations) and a cool, creative companion piece to for anyone who actually made it through the 1860 novel. Though the middle part of the book did seem to lag in plot (I blame Dickens for that), the majority of the book was interesting, and it appeared that Erwin sticks to the original plot pretty well. In the world of classic/monster mashups, Grave Expectations falls in between completely fun (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) and the rather boring, didn't-really-change-much novels (Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim). I often managed to forget that I was reading a parody of another novel, which is always a good sign for the viability of books based on other books.