“This abomination of yours… it is magnificently horrific,
far surpassing what I had imagined.”
– Monster by Dave Zeltserman
“Nothing could have prepared me for the hideous apparition that looked back out at me as I bent low in front of the mirror. My face was that of a daemon. Twisted, distorted, the mouth an ugly knife-slit and the flesh the same strange grayish skin that covered my appendages and hands. A thing of nightmares.”
The truth of his existence soon becomes clear – Victor Frankenstein, a practitioner of the dark arts, has killed Hoffmann and his beloved as part of an evil experiment. In league with the Marquis de Sade, Frankenstein’s ultimate goal for his “pet” is unclear – but as soon as he is able, Hoffmann escapes and begins his “damnable quest for vengeance” against the villain who killed him – and gave him life.
Thus begins an epic – and existentially profound – journey across Europe where Hoffmann is hunted by wolves and terrified townspeople, stalked by vampyres, worshipped by Satanists, and embraced by the monks of a secluded monastery.
Others may find this novel to be “a gruesome parable of control and vengeance” – that’s quoted straight from the press release – but for me it was more of an allegorical look at love and acceptance. Hoffmann’s will to live may at points be powered by unholy vengeance but ultimately it’s his love of Johanna that drives him. This is a love story of the highest order, albeit a tragic one.
Thematically, Zeltserman’s monster is us. Each and every one of us has at one time or another been unfairly judged, ridiculed, and/or ostracized for something. And – to be fair – we have all been, at some point in our lives, the frightened and weak-minded townsfolk wielding pitchforks and torches.
There is a (seemingly) simple – and invaluable – lesson to be learned here. Hoffmann may look like a monster but he is caring, gentle, scholarly, and courageous – an exceptional human being. How many times have we passed judgment on someone without ever getting to know them? Found them to be somehow inferior because of their differences? The sequence at the monastery was particularly moving:
“At Brother Theodore’s urging I had left my face uncovered by the cape’s hood, and none of the other monks displayed any distress over my appearance, nor did any of them appear to notice the monstrous construction of my hands. Instead they only favored me with warm smiles and gentle nods and the good cheer of camaraderie.”
The obvious recommendation here is for horror fans and readers who loved Frankenstein but I would suggest Zeltserman’s Monster to literary and mainstream fiction readers as well. It’s an homage to Shelley’s classic, yes, but it’s also a powerful parable about having the courage to be ourselves – and to embrace others as they are. It would be nice to think that sometime in the near future we’ll be able to live in a world where the ignorant and fearful mob doesn’t always rule…
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can follow him on Twitter at @paulgoatallen and get all the latest Barnes & Noble book news from @BNBuzz.
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