Kangaroos, foxes, dolphins, and many other animals take on human characteristics, behaviors, and foibles in this inventive debut novel by Drucker (Fabulas Feminae, 2015, etc.).
The principal characters in this wildly imaginative, laugh-out-loud funny, and ultimately heartbreaking story are a 3.8 billion-year-old cellular life form known as an Archaeon, a restless calico cat named Callie who sets out from Boston, and an unnamed lion, whose shrinking habitat forces him to wander far from his home in Tanzania. The Archaeon, who dryly informs us that he is "not one of those swaggering microorganisms," recounts the "downdrift" (or is it "uplift"?) of emotions, communications, and careers from humans to the animal kingdom. Chimps discover organized warfare. Birds open a public relations firm. Antelopes wearing earbuds listen to the music of "Beasthoven," "Moosart," and "Mauler." Poodles drive taxicabs. Adders become accountants. Vegetarianism comes into vogue. In short, "all the animals are susceptible to seepage from the human species." The mutations and contagions accelerate as Callie and the lion, who "feels the loss of everything he has ever known or relied on," head toward their mutual destination. The Archaean's tales of the many different animals are delivered in deliciously short chapters that build over the course of one year into a story that's by turns droll, subversive, pensive, brooding, off-the-charts weird, and wonderfully surprising. When Callie and the lion find each other, the novel becomes a poignant meditation on the fate of the wild, the future of domesticity, and our own limited knowledge and understanding of the astonishing animal kingdom of which we are a part.
Animal lovers will enjoy the antics of the beagles, bears, salamanders, cows, spiders, and other creatures, but the author's beautifully subtle message isn't just for pet owners or environmentalists. It's for all of us.