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Beasts: A Hawk's-eye View

I finished reading John Crowley"s book Beasts, having missed it back when it first came out.  I recognize the same author at work as in Aegypt, and Little, Big.   It seems his inhabiting passions have not shifted altogether into some different form of beast than that of this more youthful time.  There are some magical hints here and there of the authorial powers to come, but this is not to slight the book's own achievement which is considerable.  The book was moving for its ability to keep an almost scientific detachment while at the same time making you care for the characters (ah, "care actors"-- the ones  you care about).  There is no central character, but the perfect sight and freedom of the hawk stands in perhaps as a figurehead.  A charcoal sketch of JC enhances the back cover of the DoubleDay edition, showing impossibly(?) large eyes, a black leo-like mane, and a gaze at once all-seeing, humored, compassionate.

The plot is generally about getting by, getting on with it in an inter-species fashion in a post-collapse world that does not seem too far from where are at present.  We could easily slide into this novel, give birth to its reality here and now, country and all. Animals find ways of relating, but not understanding each other-- humans least of all being capable of understanding other humans, themselves, leos, foxes, hawks, dogs. 

Unlike Orwellian animal intelligence, Crowley crafts his highly political brew out of fragments of realistic-seeming animal intelligence, enhanced with human touches, yet obscure.  The book's novella length belies the richness of characterization and the plotting which makes one feel that it is a much larger work.  The reader fills in easily what does not need to be said, and ponders, book occasionally set aside, what it means to be part of such a world.

The book would indeed make an excellent movie in that it is all about vision, change, and the interaction of strange souls.  It would be very difficult to achieve some of the poetic notions JC gives us of the inner life of beasts-- but the opacity is possibly more important.  The beauty of the absolute and ineffable beast could be shown by the right director.  Certainly not the jacket blurb jockey who called the book  "a stunning tale of terror and suspense!"  Terror?  Well, I guess that if terror makes one want to renew their Sierra Club membership-- then I was quite terrified!

Crowley takes your emotions in hand.  A small karate chop near the climax is enough to evoke tears.  Like a thunderclap wakening you, you find that clouds are divesting their harvest of moisture, and it's raining for you, and you are glad you care.

Cydonia photo: ESA

This is the journal of David Ross
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