Monster, 1959

Monster, 1959

by David Maine

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From the critically acclaimed author of The Preservationist and The Book of Samson, Monster, 1959 is an extraordinary tale of 1950s America---flawed, conflicted, and poised to enter the most culturally upended decade of the century.

The United States government has been testing the long-term effects of high-level radiation on a few


From the critically acclaimed author of The Preservationist and The Book of Samson, Monster, 1959 is an extraordinary tale of 1950s America---flawed, conflicted, and poised to enter the most culturally upended decade of the century.

The United States government has been testing the long-term effects of high-level radiation on a few select islands in the South Pacific. Their efforts have produced killer plants, mole people, and a forty-foot creature named K. Covered in fur and feathers, gifted with unusable butterfly wings and the mental capacity of a goldfish, K. is an evolutionary experiment gone very awry. Although he has no real understanding of his world, he knows when he’s hungry, and he knows to follow the drumbeats that lead him, every time, to the tree where a woman is offered to him as a sacrifice by the natives. When a group of American hunters stumble across the island, it’s bound to get interesting, especially when the natives offer up the guide’s beautiful wife to K. Not to be outdone, the Americans manage to capture him. Back in the States, they start a traveling show. The main attraction: K.

Editorial Reviews

Josh Emmons
…Maine retains much of the imaginative boldness of his previous books, even inventing a new creation myth. According to island legend, K. is actually Kama Ka, the god of things living, who is locked in an eternal struggle with the god of things dead. That he is subsequently jeered and his divinity unrecognized may remind readers of another biblical story, but it is precisely the oddness of encountering a Passion narrative under the big top that makes the book so curious. Like its protagonist, "a Daliesque construct of unexpected leaps and alarming juxtapositions," Monster, 1959 is both ungainly and oddly endearing, a throwback to a time when people weren't afraid to embrace what they most feared.
—The New York Times
Tyler Knox
If you think you've seen this story before, you're right, but never quite like this…Maine, whose previous novels were brilliant retellings of Bible stories, gets most of the details just right. His hero is a grotesque amalgam of every cheesy monster ever projected onto a drive-in movie screen, and everyone around K speaks in grade-A B-movie dialogue. What makes the novel oddly relevant, though, is the feel of a nation on the cusp of some huge change it can't quite fathom…grab the popcorn and snuggle up with this engaging horror-movie of a book.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal

The monster of the title, known only as "K," is an amalgam of Hollywood cliches: shaggy fur, antennae, feathers, scales, butterfly wings. He lives on an island of nuclear-test mutants, worshipped by the natives and relatively at peace, until he falls afoul of a central-casting blonde and her lantern-jawed beau in a scene from the outtakes of King Kong. It's not long before he's trussed up and carried across the ocean to be exhibited on tour for the masses. What makes this story interesting, though, is where it departs from formula. Betty (the blonde) and Johnny (the beau) have a relationship nearly as twisted as K's features. Billy, their friend and K's impresario, has a thing for money that goes far beyond mere greed. Each of the five years the novel spans is introduced with a montage of world events, focusing on the questionable foreign policies of Western leaders. Clearly, Maine (The Preservationist) intends us to ask whether the vegetarian K is the real monster. Recommended for most fiction collections.
—Karl G. Siewert

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
6.21(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.96(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Establishing Shot

In his dream, K. flies.

Below him is the island: verdant and vertiginous, lunatic with creation, lush like a scrap of Eden discarded and forgotten in the ocean's endless tundra. Trees flash by, rainforest-dense, tropical growth shrouding the hills in overstuffed quilted folds. Flocks of birds glitter like refracting jewels, like op art on the wing, Vs and swarms and grand unruly mobs weaving from scarp to treetop to lakeside and up again into open sky. Toward K.

K. has no words for this. In fact K. has no words at all. The language center in his brain looks like a Jackson Pollack painting dropped from a great height. K. is preliterate, prelingual; in fact, pre-just about anything you can think of. His thoughts are the pictures he sees and the feelings they create. Sensation is his vocabulary: flavor, touch, sound, intuition, image. And smell most of all. In his dream, the heels-over-head feelings of floating, swooping, soaring are bereft of words to name them. The closest he can come is to grunt in his sleep, whimper and purr and coo and bleat. Slumbering high in his treetop nest, K. does just this. But in his dream, he flies.

Not all dreams are such. Sometimes he sees faces, figures of others like himself: huge, shambolic forms lurching across the primeval landscape. In ordinary life—though "ordinary" is a precarious word to use around here—in ordinary life, K. wanders as solitary as John the Baptist, so the feelings stirred up by these misty figures elide into a whirlpool of difficult-to-understand emotions. In his waking life, K. has never seen anything even remotely resembling himself: an oversized, black-furred, butterfly-winged, fish-scaled, hawk-taloned, insect-antennaed primate. Sometimes he wonders, as best he can, why this is so. Such wondering is difficult without words. Ideas like species or even family lie far outside his ken; he is possessed of a rudimentary sense of me and a slightly clearer sense of them, but abstractions of any greater complexity elude him. He cannot know that he is a species of one, the first, last and only of his race: a race that is over before it starts. The merciless demands of natural selection have declared his impossibly overgrown, jumbled-up self to be simply too huge, too ungainly and demanding —of nourishment, of physical space—to evolve further. The other preposterous species of the island, the fish-finned insect-rats and miniature, eight-eyed mole people, are similarly marked, but possessing as they do even less self-awareness than K., they don't know it either.

In his dream, K. circles high in the air, flirts with the clouds, brushes the firmament, pirouettes like a deformed Nureyev before flipping head-down and plummeting toward a lake. The water approaches with gut-clenching speed, and K.'s heart jolts into double time. Waves glitter and smear across his vision. At the moment of impact, K. jerks himself awake. The tree he is lounging in shudders as if struck, and a multitude of storks takes noisily to the air.

Around K. the island hunkers, observing him. Low morning sun wrestles heavy clouds. Tropical forest, wet-earth smells, plenty of bugs.

K. peers about groggily. His heart beats fast as if he is in danger, but he smells none, hears none. What dangers are there, anyway, for a creature such as himself? The insect-rats are too small to mention, the dens of the mole people lie deep underground. K. flicks his tongue and smells the peaceful air. Already his heart is slowing, the dream is fading, then faded, then gone: river mist that flees the sun. His blood pressure drops. He reaches for a nearby cluster of leaves and stuffs them in his mouth, chewing meditatively. An observer might be forgiven for thinking that K. is lost in thought. He is not. He is simply lost. Or more properly, he is waiting for a stimulus, internal or external, to prod him into motion. Perhaps hunger, or the approach of the flying lizard who occasionally torments him, or the need to relieve his bowels, or a thunderstorm.

K. sits patiently, chewing without thinking. Waiting, like one of Pavlov's now-famous slobbering dogs, for something to happen.

Later that day, something does.

Excerpted from MONSTER 1959 by DAVID MAINE
Copyright © 2008 by David Maine
Published in January 2009 by St. Martin's Press

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Meet the Author

David Maine was born in 1963 and grew up in Farmington, Connecticut. He attended Oberlin College and the University of Arizona and has worked in the mental-health systems of Massachusetts and Arizona. He has taught English in Morocco and Pakistan, and since 1998 has lived in Lahore, Pakistan, with his wife, novelist Uzma Aslam Khan.

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