Reviewer Christopher Willard: Chris is the author of the novel Garbage Head (Vehicule Press/Esplanade Books, 2005) and Sundre, (Vehicule Press/Esplanade, 2009). His fiction and poetry have also been published in Salon, Third Wednesday, Ranfurly Review, Ars Medica, Ukula, Coffee House Press, Broken Pencil, Sobriquet, and upcoming in the Broken Pencil Anthology titled Can't Lit. He currently lives in Calgary where he teaches at the Alberta College of Art + Design
Publisher: Esplanade Books
Where the Wild Things Are/Were
The Canadian writer Margaret Atwood once spoke at Oxford University where she described the wendigo as a monster as having a heart of ice. Such a phrase might also exemplify thirty-five year old Margaret H. Atwood, the main character in Missy Marston’s The Love Monster. Her icy heart pumps cold blood and her eyes are cold lenses through which her reflection consists of jowls and crinkles, her co-workers exist to receive her hatred, her office is a metaphor for a litter box, her soon to be ex-husband is the same self-serving jerk he always was, and her coffee cup, well, that’s best used for gin. Margaret H. Atwood reflects that it’s, “Not: how does anyone live through this or that? Just: how does anyone live? Why bother?” The extra-terrestrial Leader who sneaks into her room at night to observe her in another creepy version of the book I’ll Love You Forever does not share her angst. He cares deeply. He finds her exciting. He is dismayed by her lack of positive purpose. He considers alien/human options.
Underlying the surface plot is a subtle scrutinization of our rhizomatic, ironic, counter-intuitive world in which we are forced to continually negotiate the endless onslaughts of influences and media. Our individuality of ‘one in a million’ becomes meaningless in the world of billions where, as Margaret H. Atwood muses, people die, “Millions and millions, year after year.” She wants to kick in the screen of her television to make it stop. Her attempted withdrawal is no cure. Negotiation is a flaccid sedative. Marston presents Atwood as a person who references cultural influences, because they’re that deep, and also as a meta-critical dempster unable to invest real meaning in anything. It is a world-view-as-a-question that I see many contemporary authors taking on in their novels, not as a theme but as a driving background force. The mindset, at surface level in Atwood, worries the Leader. And, quite frankly, I’m worried too. This summer Battleship, the movie (seriously? a movie based on a game?) plays to the masses, presenting another destroy all aliens plot and simultaneously getting people to pay Hollywood for what could be considered an hour and a half recruitment commercial for the US navy. The absurdity of it all is mind-boggling. But unlike our inability to do anything but watch and shake our heads, the alien Leader has the power to enforce change.
The Love Monster begins as Marston charges into this irrational world with echoes of Arthur Miller’s buoyant and sharp observations and attitudes. By the middle of the book we are reminded of Lisa Moore’s structural chapter/character shifts in Alligator. By the end Marston tones down the writing and settles into a sort of love conquers all theme as Margaret H. Atwood happily assumes a neo-liberal normalcy that I’d expect the alien Leader to find deeply troubling. He’s probably blinded by love. The book is encapsulated quite well by a famous quote of Rilke, “Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” And so it is with Atwood as she discards her wild and cynical self and gently embraces those around her. Perhaps this is what Margaret H. Atwood really needed, a love, presented to her by an alien who wished to remind Atwood of her primary magical power: her ability to be human.
Follow Here To Purchase The Love Monster