Friday, April 4, 2008

After Moreau, Jeffrey Ford

Opening: I, Hippopotamus Man, can say without question that Moreau was a total asshole. Wells at least got that part right, but the rest of the story he told all wrong. He makes it seem like the Doctor was about trying to turn beasts into humans. More...

Capsule: Ford does a lot in these nineteen-hundred words. He gives his first-person narrator, Hippopotamus Man, a distinctly telling voice that does more showing than telling. The non-exposition exposes a tightly constructed panorama in which all kinds of details regarding the aftermath of Moreau's experiments are brought to somatic life through consistent Hippo-lens.

When I started this story I was immediately cautious that Ford's prose might contain some kind of Noble Savage Message, and to my great relief it didn't. (It also didn't contain the equally odious Ignoble Savage Message.) True to form, there is no Message except that revealed by the actions and emotions presented in the story. There's a certain sense of post-modern detachment to the viewpoint construction, and Ford's version of the modified beast's Seven Precepts ("1. Trust don't Trust 2. Sleep don't Sleep" etc.) neatly inserts an existentialist note (it brought to my mind Beckett's "I can't go on. I'll go on."). The ending establishes narrative plausibility while at the same time tying the story perfectly back to those irresistible first few lines and providing emotional depth.

Ok, so Dr. Moreau is a character invented by Wells, and other characters in Wells' story are now telling us, through Ford's story, what really happened after Moreau's death, and how Wells got it wrong. There are also references to subsequent adaptations of Wells' story. But Ford has this material under such tight control there isn't the slightest sense of convolution or cutesy in the narrative framework. It goes beyond meta-narrative, since it's recursive as well. It's a genetic narrative in flux. And, like one those injections, it leaves us transfigured, a little closer to an interior understanding of Coleridge's reconciliation of opposites.

(Ford has stated in his blog that " 'After Moreau' is one of a series of stories I've been writing recently I'd like to collect some day under the title Lives of the Mad Scientists." Bring on the mutations!)
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