Dear Neighbors Northers,
Yes. I know. It’s been a while. Months, in fact. Work on novels continue. Writing continues. I find myself in a period of great editing and deep, cavernous story. It takes events of seismic proportions to rouse me into posting. One such recent event was reading Laurie Blauner’s The Solace of Monsters. My apologies if I give away too much of the story in my review (below). I hope it will not disincline you from reading Ms. Blauner’s novel. If you read it, I would love to read your take on it here at Neighbors North.
Some books provide answers and facts and knowledge. They leave the reader with a greater sense of “knowing.” Laurie Blauner’s Solace of Monsters left me with a greater sense of “unknowing.”
Monsters is an updated Frankenstein story. Mara, more specifically, Mara Five, is the monster. Her creator is Father, a heart-broken mad scientist.
Mara is in a state of becoming. She is young, on the cusp of womanhood. Father is still tinkering, cramming her with parts and fixing them in place with Krazy Glue.
Mara learns about the world through reading. She doesn’t watch television or listen to the radio. She never goes outside. Father locks her in her room when he is away at his job. Sometimes memories of Mara’s past existences slip into her consciousness.
In the opening scene, the description of the bird on Mara’s dinner plate tingles with references to the living creature the bird once was—alive with muscle, blood, bone, and skin.
Mara hasn’t yet got a handle on her outsized strength. In an early scene, when she wishes to show affection to Gloves, her feline companion, she overdoes the love and kills Gloves.
Gradually Mara learns why Father goes to such lengths to not only make her but perfect her. She is the child Father lost. The child Father cannot let go of. The child he cannot release.
She submits to Father’s operations. She doesn’t particularly like them. She doesn’t like the long painful recovery period, but she wishes to please Father.
She keeps it a secret when she loses a toe.
She busts out of her locked room the morning after the dinner party with Greg, Father’s work colleague. She makes her way to the basement, to Father’s laboratory. Greg’s corpse is laid out on the operating table. Father has already begun dissecting.
Mara’s veil of ignorance falls. She flees.
A motorist takes her to the outskirts of a forest. Others, offended by her appearance, wish to annihilate her. Mara eludes her pursuers. She finds shelter in a little church in the forest. Teresa, the village laundress, takes her in. In addition to washing others laundry, Teresa also keeps the church clean. Mara receives a hostile welcome from Teresa’s little girl, Kat, who is surly and blind.
Mara’s adhesive bonds weaken. Her decay accelerates. She loses another toe, another tooth. Part of her ear and an eyebrow fall off.
She hobbles to the city. She is down to one kidney. Her strength has begun to ebb. She is more hideous-looking.
Prostitutes and other wayward people befriend her. The normals turn away.
She has run-ins with doctors and police. A doctor examining her excitedly alerts his colleagues. He has never seen anyone with so much necrotic tissue.
She meets Father Bill. He is a spirit-driven holy man, a redeemer and executioner. He restores sanctity by killing prostitutes.
Mara kills Bill and departs the city. She journeys by bus back to Father in a state of great decrepitude. She hides her ravaged face beneath a scarf. She leans on a crutch.
She and Father fall into their old pattern of creator and clay. Father guides her toward the operating table. This time, when she falls under the narcotic’s spell, she understands exactly the meaning of the moaning and crying she hears coming from a distant room.
Solace left me with many questions. How do we keep from becoming monsters? At what cost do we preserve ourselves, defend our territory, our right to exist? How much suffering and death do we allow to be done in our names? What are we willing to do and to have done to others so that we may be fixed and repaired?
What is the cost of sheltering with killers?
What do we wish to preserve of the dead? What is it we wish to remember? What do the “normals” see? What does the blind girl see? What does the lady pushing the shopping cart see?
And what of the self-proclaimed redeemers, such as Father Bill, such as Mara’s father? Is one any nastier than the other? Both men long for the face of God to eternally shine on them. Is that not what all of us, on some level, wish?
Lastly, what calculus allows Mara to return to Father’s operating table? Why doesn’t she choose the nobler path? Why doesn’t she lie down under a bed of leaves and wait for her decay to be complete? Would that be the nobler path?