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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Dave Zeltserman: "Monster: A Novel of Frankenstein"

Author:  Dave Zeltserman
Title:  Monster: A Novel of Frankenstein
Plot Type:  Horror
Ratings:  V4; S4; H1
Publisher:  Overlook Press (2012)

     Well, it seems that Mary Shelley got it all wrong when she wrote her classic horror novel, Frankenstein. Who knew that Victor Frankenstein was the real monster and that his buddy, the Marquis de Sade, was in on the monster action in a big way

    In this reimagining of the familiar tale, the monster tells his side of the story, painting Victor as the villaina depraved sadist who believes in the "naturalness" of predatory depravity. In the Prologue, the monster explains that both Shelley and Captain Walton were "duped by Frankenstein's egregious lies; lies told for no other reason than to save the reputation and name of a sinister and black-hearted man, a man who had willingly spent his life in the service of the devil." Although the details of this story are very different from Shelley's, almost all of the original characters are here, including Victor's friend, Henry Clerval; his bride, Elizabeth; his brother, William; and Captain Walton, skipper of the ice-bound ship on which Victor tries to make his final escape. 

     As the story begins, Friedrich Hoffmann is a chemist in an apothecary in a small German town where he is engaged to be married to Johanna, daughter of the owner of the shop in which he works. One night when he stops at a beer hall on his way home from work, someone drugs him, and he awakens in an alley with his clothes covered in blood and his fiancée's gold locket in his pocket. When Johanna is found brutally murdered that same night, Friedrich is found guilty of the crime and is executed on the breaking wheel. When he begins to regain consciousness, Friedrich can hardly believe that he has survived. Unfortunately, although Friedrich retains all of his memories of what has happened to him, he soon learns that the only part left of his original self is his brain, which is now connected to a huge, grotesque body made up of pieces and parts constructed during dark sorcerous spells cast by Victor Frankenstein.

     The first part of the story follows poor Friedrich as he escapes from Victor's custody and rambles through the countryside scaring people to death. In his travels, he spends time at a monastery, rescues a young woman from witch burners, meets some vampyres, and plays Satan to a group of devil worshippers. Soon, though, Friedrich feels himself being pulled to Victor's spooky castle, which turns out to be a hotbed of sexual depravity (all graphically described). Victor and his friends believe that humans are basically animals. Victor berates Friedrich when he objects to Victor's planned murder of innocent young girls in a debauched bacchanal: "I had such high hopes for you. You, of all creatures, who must be so detested simply for your physical appearance by these same men and women whom you insist on bleeding tears of compassion for." (p. 131) To Victor, murdering innocents to further his "scientific" study, or just to satisfy his perverse desires, is minor collateral damage. 

     By now completely under Victor's control, Friedrich desperately wants to break the spell and wreak vengeance on Victor. As the story moves toward the inevitable showdown between Friedrich and Victor, the action moves very quickly. Although the reader has a hint of what will happen when Friedrich and Victor head north, the ending goes well beyond Shelley's. 

     Zeltserman effectively uses Shelley's basic framework and characters, but then he twists the plot and adds new characters and incidents so that nothing is completely predictable. His monster tells his story straightforwardly, pulling no punches and avoiding none of the graphic violence that he witnessesand perpetrates. I'm not usually a fan of retellings of the classics, but this one is terrifica story well told. 

     One last thing: Because I can never forget my years as an English teacher, I must give Zeltserman an A+ for his usage of the word "comprised." (p. 133) It is, unfortunately, rare these days to find an author (or editor) who gets that usage exactly right. So bravo, Dave! (Click HERE is you're interested in improving your own writing by learning the correct way to use "comprised" and "composed of.")

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