Sunday, August 16, 2020

Eight top non-human narrators in fiction

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a nonprofit publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, as well as a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a team of poets and their typewriters who compose commissioned poetry on demand. She teaches in the English Department at DePaul University, and her most recent books include the national best-seller, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (2017) and The Listening Room: A Novel of Georgette and Loulou Magritte (2018). Her new novel, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, is based on a true story of the Great War.

At Lit Hub, Rooney tagged eight books that "send messages and promises to their readers that, far from standing outside of so-called 'nature,' humans are animals too." One title on the list:
Tania James, The Tusk That Did the Damage

Set in South India, Tania James’ 2015 novel The Tusk That Did the Damage isn’t told entirely from an animal point of view, but her move of including the perspective of a bull elephant known as Gravedigger adds complexity and heartbreak to her examination of the ivory trade. Weaving the exploited and long-suffering Gravedigger’s voice in with those of a young poacher and an American documentary filmmaker lets James depict interspecies conflicts and power imbalances with nuance and freshness. In the book’s first chapter, Gravedigger, as a calf, witnesses his mother’s murder as she tries to protect the herd from a human attack: “The man in the tree was pointing a long-snouted gun. Another blast—the tusker bellowed, deep and doomed. The Gravedigger whirled in search of his mother, and when at last he caught her scent, he found her roaring in the face of the gunman who aimed into her mouth and shot.” Motivated by revenge and self-preservation, Gravedigger comes to trample humans to death, then covers them with dirt (hence the name) before returning to the forest where he lives in hiding. Through her use of the close third person, James makes Gravedigger as morally multifaceted a character as any of the humans who surround him.
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue