Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Monstrumologist

Why The Monstrumologist, by Rick Yancey, is categorized as a ‘young adult novel’, I do not know. But that’s nothing new. I have often felt confused by this categorization, as, often enough, the best among these works will satisfy every qualification that would be associated with the ‘adult’ novel, from the density of the prose to the demands of vocabulary to the complexity of narrative, and so on. The one element that may be missing is specific sexual content – lengthy descriptions of those things that only grown people do. If this is the case, the divide is both shallow and unfortunate and the reader may find himself robbed of a fine work of fiction because it had been sentenced to the young folks’ aisle in the bookstore.

For that matter, I can’t help but think that The Monstrumologist is a bit demanding for the younger reader, especially those who have suckled on the usual fare of handsome angels and mythical kingdoms and the ever popular teen dystopia novel (what the hell is wrong with kids these days?) – formula fiction that is about as intellectually demanding as an episode of Batman or Supergirl. I can’t really picture the majority of young readers having the patience to follow along with Yancey’s development of his story or the knowledge that would be required to appreciate the genre traditions he is drawing upon – Poe, Hawthorne, Charles Brockden Brown, and so on – and which greatly enrich the narrative throughout.

So, I’m going to say that this is not a young adult novel at all. It is simply a damn good book.

Monsters are loose in New Jerusalem, Massachusetts. They are the Anthropophagi, described in the writings of antiquity, Herodotus, Pliny, Shakespeare. Huge and headless, having eyes and mouth (and a whole lot of blade-like teeth) in the chest, between where the shoulders would be, these creatures live to eat, and eat only people. Monstrumologist and man of science, Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, has long studied these creatures through travel and literature, and now comes face to face with them in an increasingly intense and truly bloody series of encounters. The doctor is accompanied by newly orphaned Will Henry, whose father had faithfully served Warthrop before dying in a tragic fire.

But there are more monsters in this story than the Anthropophagi alone, for there is a monstrous side to science itself, an unfeeling, unknowing chill; there is a monstrous side to life and accident and loss; a monstrous side to passion and to lack of passion.

Yancey develops his tale carefully and artfully, and then once he has gotten up a full head of steam, the thing races downhill like a runaway locomotive. I thought the ride was rewarding great fun. But I would caution the squeamish, for there are some truly intense, truly gory episodes herein that might make your skin crawl and cause a few nightmares. Reader beware.

No comments: