Goldstein (The Second Coming, 2014) offers an illustrated story in verse about a flea searching for a safe place to live.
Finnegan T. Flea is a parasite, but this story asks readers not to hold that against him. He takes no more blood than he needs to survive, and never spreads diseases on purpose, but he’s still hated in a way that similarly predatory humans are not. He makes his home on the back of a cat in a monastery, but when the monks attempt to exterminate him, he leaps from cat to monk to donkey to head outside. At first, he’s excited by the prospect of freedom, but he soon realizes that the world is a very dangerous place for a flea, with forces that wish to harm him at every turn. The story travels to some dark places, and by the end, it’s clear that whatever the sins of a flea might be, they don’t begin to equal the rampant brutality of the world he lives in. Goldstein tells his tale in an odd, irregularly rhyming verse that seemingly attempts to evoke epic poetry and slam poetry at the same time. Although this is an attractive conceit in the abstract, the author never settles on a standardized meter or rhyme scheme, which makes it far less satisfying than it might have been. The narration feels more improvised than carefully composed, and while it might be impressive if performed out loud, it makes for a difficult, awkward read. The politics of Goldstein’s fictional world turn out to be more extreme than they appear at the outset: His larger theme is the violence that men do to animals, and to one another, and his conclusions aren’t optimistic. The author also draws connections to slavery and genocide, which may invigorate some readers, but others may roll their eyes. Grinager’s full-color artwork is the book’s highlight—an impressive mix of textures that’s alternately bright, creepy and oddly stirring. Overall, the odd power of this book lies in the contrast between its arresting imagery and its inherently light verse.
A quirky, distinctly dark work with faltering poetry but memorable images.