A young factory worker with radiation poisoning trains an elephant with near-human consciousness to conduct the tasks that resulted in her affliction, and the bond they form leads them to seek vengeance against those who have wronged them.
Bolander’s debut novella takes two historical events—the tragic deaths of the Radium Girls, a group of Newark factory workers who died of radiation poisoning in the early 1900s, and the public electrocution of an Indian elephant in Coney Island—and twists them into a world that's close and yet so far from our own. Regan, a fictionalized member of the Radium Girls, teaches a sentient elephant to fulfill her duties after she learns of her condition. News articles, poems, and a voice from the near future describing these events to a higher power weave around this core narrative, creating a confounding but intricate book. Bolander’s gorgeous and vigorous language at times gets in the way of her story, and frequent scene shifts can make it hard to follow, but this handcrafted arrow of a novella becomes more absorbing with each read. Bolander’s singular dedication to her vision compels readers forward; those familiar with her Hugo and Nebula awards–nominated stories will enjoy every unexpected twist and turn of this convoluted work. The novella’s commentary around workers' rights, animal rights, and women’s rights in the late 20th century serves as a powerful backdrop for a work grounded in injustice and outrage, though Bolander’s tale never feels preachy or on-the-nose. The moving conclusion rights the wrongs of history and paints a portrait of what could have been if only humans did not have such a capacity for cruelty.
A rich, poetic novella.