Book review: ‘Monster, 1959’ packs a punch
Vail CO, Colorado
Monsters aren’t bad, just misunderstood.
So author David Maine will have you believe in his humorous release “Monster, 1959,” a prime piece of pulp ripe with political and scientific suggestions. Making a stew of classic B-movie cliches with a nod toward Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” as well as the state of the world, Maine crafts a sympathetic simpleton in the form of K.
K is a monster in the most earnest of terms. He’s a towering mutant with wings, feathers, claws and scales; the product of the United States’ clandestine nuclear testing in the South Pacific circa the mid-1950s. Although freakishly imposing, K is astoundingly stupid. Needless to say, he’s ripe for exploitation.
A group of American adventurers stumble upon K’s island, which he shares with the mole people and ravenous fauna, also byproducts of weapons testing. Our plucky explorers decide a fortune can be theirs by exhibiting K at circuses and fairs around the world, which leads them to kidnap K and bring him back to New York City.
Sure, this all sounds familiar as it’s essentially the same premise as King Kong, though the massive ape had far more aptitude than our bumbling beast. K escapes in the city, runs amok because he’s more scared at his surroundings than mad at his captors. This breaks no new ground in the monster genre.
Where Maine does succeed is crafting a nuanced character that you can’t help but feel sorry for. K is merely a victim of circumstances, who poses no threat to anyone or anything until he’s placed in harms way by some schemers seeking fame and fortune. Infer what you will.
Maine (who voluntarily lives in Pakistan) clearly has a passion for the schlock monster films, right down to the stilted dialogue and damsel in distress. The damsel in this case is buxom, blond Betty who soothes K by singing to him. K, not surprisingly, entertains a crush on Betty.
As K is extracted from the island and paraded around town, the emotions start to deepen. The care-free, whimsical narrative of the novel’s opening segues into feelings of isolation and panic, which not are typically imbued in grotesque behemoths. Similar to Frankenstein’s monster, K simply seeks a companionship, which leads to a clever one-sided romance with another towering, green thing in New York City.
Fans of mega-selling authors Christopher Moore and Tom Robins may want to give Maine and K a whirl, as the dark humor mixes with slapstick and vivid imagery in the same vein. Maine can write, no question there.
Maine, however, manages to cross himself up in frustrating fashion. Once he’s develops K as an imbecile, he gives the monster a wide emotional palate as the story pushes on, leaving a reader to wonder if the narration has changed or the monster received reading material on the journey stateside.
The author also seems indecisive about the novel’s tone, is it a satire? A damnation of society and human nature to tinker with everything? Or a breezy, funny tale of a homesick monster? It could be all those things.
As the story rumbles to its conclusion, Maine goes overboard on the political metaphors. An appendix cites fundamentalist Islamic texts, the plight of Palestinians, the U.S.’s involvement in the removal of Iranian prime minister Mossadegh, and a variety of other bizarre notations and influences.
This is just further proof that’s there weighty material wapped in this comical tale, which although confusing, is written in a fun enough style that may merit a second reading.
Stephen Bedford is the general manager of the Bookworm in Edwards.
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