An eccentric bestiary that playfully and thoughtfully underlines the pain and loss of extinction.
Muir (The Book of Telling, 2005, etc.), an academic, poet and essayist, combines fact and imagination in 20 fables narrated by an amateur naturalist named Sophie who has the ability to see invisible creatures. Without getting too didactic, each tale conveys a lesson about the beauty, fragility and complexity of living things. Humor and barbs come through in comments on politics, Wall Street and other subjects. There’s an invisible jackass that kicks people intent on making deals and money. “The Spiders of Theodora” offers Swiftian satire on the customs of a town like Washington, D.C. The sad “The Foster Fowl” touches on climate change and the role of even caring humans in hastening extinction. In "The Oormz," that cloudlike being drapes its faint cashmere self comfortingly over Sophie’s head and shoulders, helping dispel dark moods and recall memories of “the first spring I’d ever seen.” “The Golden Egg” is a marvelous capsule of natural history spanning many eons. “The Hypnogator,” with its mesmerizing reptile, stands out as one of the few tales (“The Foster Fowl” is another) with the heft of a good short story, not to mention crackling suspense. Sophie sometimes consults her biologist sister, Evie, who adds to a stratum of science that runs through the fantasy like a long, faith-building footnote for the dubious reader. In stark moments, the real world sounds like this: The “mass extinction” of species “is the only one caused by a single organism capable of seeing the big picture, understanding its own destructive role, and changing that.”
One doubt Muir doesn’t quell is whether such a fanciful treatise has a chance of enlightening that organism, but she deserves a good-size audience to give the experiment a fair shot.