Gods and Monstersby Christopher Bram
Previously titled Father of Frankenstein, this acclaimed novel was the basis for the 1998 film starring Sir Ian McKellen, Lynn Redgrave, and Brendan Fraser. It journeys back to 1957 Los Angeles, where James Whale, the once-famous director of such classics as Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, is living in retirement, haunted by his/em>/em>/em>… See more details below
Previously titled Father of Frankenstein, this acclaimed novel was the basis for the 1998 film starring Sir Ian McKellen, Lynn Redgrave, and Brendan Fraser. It journeys back to 1957 Los Angeles, where James Whale, the once-famous director of such classics as Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, is living in retirement, haunted by his past. Rescuing him from his too-vivid imagination is his gardener, a handsome ex-marine. The friendship between these two very different men is sometimes tentative, sometimes touching, often dangerous—and always captivating.This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.
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Gods and MonstersA Novel
By Christopher Bram
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Christopher Bram
All right reserved.
Night. Rain. A whistling seethe of wind. Specters of air swirl around a scaly roof and dark Gothic steeples. A bright solitary window stares out like a caged eye.
Lightning splits the sky, a jagged mile-high spark that leaps to the earth with the boom of an iron door slamming shut. In the hard white flash, the twisted vines around the window's casement flare into view, as sharply rendered as an engraving in an old anatomy book.
The landscape of churned darkness stretches all around -- mud and stumps and pools. A single shattered oak stands above the desolation. Lightning crashes again. There's a glimpse of movement, a shape like a man stumbling past wiry coils of brier before he gutters out in darkness. The wind grows louder. The horizon thuds and flickers with distant lightning, a great short-circuiting of the world.
Another crashing blink, and the human silhouette reappears, upside down now, reflected in a grainy, rain-pricked puddle. The top of his head is flat, his arms long and heavy, his boots weighted with mud. Lost again in blackness, he is no longer out by the puddle but continues to move, shifting farther off in the dark, or coming closer, very close.
And suddenly: everything changes back.
The gale fades, as quickly as the dying spin of a backstage wind machine. The lightning abruptly stops, as if someone threw a switch, and birds begin to sing, real birds, martins and nightingales, as light creeps into the scene, and color: the dark green steeples of cypress trees, the soft red and ocher of brick trim, the clamshell white of clapboard. The grass is fogged with no more than a light dew as the sun rises from behind the next ridge.
A two-story Colonial-style house stands above a shaggy, grassy slope bordered with privet and boxwood. It's the rear of the house and there's a swimming pool at the foot of the hill -- seen from the air, both sides of the little valley are blue-eyed with swimming pools. The rectangle of still water mirrors a cloudless sky that pales into woolly brightness as the sun dissolves in milky haze. Off in the distance to the right, a triangle of ocean tucked in the valley's mouth loses its horizon and melts into white sky. A water sprinkler suddenly blooms on the lawn next door, a hissing, twirling corkscrew full of rainbows. We're in Los Angeles, in Santa Monica Canyon, on a spring morning in 1957.
One bird sings louder than the others, a catbird who has no song of its own but sings fragments and snatches of other songs, in rapid, scrambled succession.
On the patchily tarred road at the foot of the hill, a pickup truck appears, rusty and in need of paint. It turns and bounces up the bumpy dirt drive behind the swimming pool, springs squeaking like tin flutes. It comes to a halt behind the gray-shingled studio beside the pool. The radio in the cab is turned up loud and the morning is broken by Elvis Presley furiously grumbling "Hound Dog." A young man gets out, tall with broad shoulders and a flattop haircut. He lowers the tailgate and wheels a lawn mower across the truck bed, a red power mower with a spiral of blades up front and large spoked wheels in the rear. The machine is heavy, but he lifts it, back muscles tensing beneath his T-shirt, thighs and buttocks flexing in his fatigue pants; his knees bend and he lowers the machine to the ground.
He doesn't notice the white shadow in the house's bay window fifty yards up the hill. The shadow watches as the young man props a foot against the engine and jerks at the starter cord, once, then again, and the machine catches, its roar drowning out the birds. He braces himself behind the handles and begins to mow. The shadow continues to watch.
The shadow is a man, of course. He stands on the pegged oak floor of his living room, a living man in a white dress shirt and seersucker jacket. A folded handkerchief droops like a lily from the jacket's pocket. There's a cold fireplace behind him with two ceramic spaniels on the mantel, and walls hung with paintings that appear valuable -- Velazquez, Rembrandt, and Titian -- but are in fact copies the man has painted for his own amusement. He is English, with a lean, rectangular face, blue eyes, and heavy lips. Pale wrists peek from his coat sleeves. His dove white hair is precisely parted on the right and thinning at the temples.
His name is James Whale. He returned home recently after two months in the hospital, where he was treated for a series of strokes. He was once a movie director, under contract at Universal. He is retired now, sixty-seven years old, although the world thinks he's only sixty. It's one of several facts he's reinvented about himself. The eight-line' obituary printed next month in Variety will be full of errors.
"I'd have more peace of mind if the live-in nurse were still here."
"She was nothing but bother. I not like her, Mr. Jimmy not like her. Stuck-up and bossy. We do better alone."
In the dining room, visible through open double doors, a man sitting at the table speaks softly with the housekeeper, a short, round-faced Mexican woman dressed in black, her hair cinched in a hard bun. The man is slight and bald, with a pinched face and the tiny eyes of a mouse. He wears a pin-striped suit that suggests he's on his way to something important.
"You'll contact me if there's an emergency?"
"Certainly, Mr. David. I call you at this number."
Whale cannot hear them but knows that he is the topic of conversation. He hates how illness has reduced him to a problem whispered about by others, a difficult child, an embarrassment.
"Mr. Jimmy?" the housekeeper calls out. "More coffee?"
Excerpted from Gods and Monsters by Christopher Bram Copyright © 2006 by Christopher Bram. Excerpted by permission.
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