Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Revisiting Frankenstein

Not long ago, a TV ad for The Frankenstein Chronicles prompted me to download Mary Shelley's 1818 classic, Frankenstein, and read it on my iPad. We all know the story, or some version of it. Doctor Frankenstein builds a creature in his laboratory, and it turns out to be a monster that goes on killing rampages.

What an imagination Shelley had! Victor Frankenstein has an idyllic childhood in Switzerland--perfect parents, no misfortunes, and a lovely cousin and playmate named Elizabeth who is expected one day to be his perfect bride.

As an adult, the highly intelligent and happy scientist Doctor Frankenstein labors in his lab to create a man. But why, when he could marry Elizabeth and create fellow humans in the easy, traditional way? He wants to advance the well-being of the human race. Of course, he discovers too late that his handiwork is hideous. How it's possible for the good Doctor to be so clueless must simply be put down to literary license.

The misfortunes that follow aren't the monster's fault. He wants love and acceptance, yet his creator hates and rejects him, purely on his looks. At night he gathers firewood as a favor to the local cottage dwellers, hoping that they will appreciate him when he finally shows his face. But when the townsfolk see him, they run away in terror. The only person not to fear him is a blind man. Only after being roundly abused does the monster despair and begin his path of destruction and vengeance.

Shelley accomplishes a lot without describing the monster in detail, though we do know he is eight feet tall. The terror comes from people's reactions. Artists' renditions often depict him with a bolt through his neck, but that didn't come from the story.

The prose is florid, overblown and awash in emotion, but it's 18th-century fiction. I love how no matter where Dr. Frankenstein goes to find peace, his monster shows up.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018


A real event with fictional details.


The man sat next to me in the maternity ward, looking like he’d rather be anywhere else in the world. He was burly, with calloused hands, oil-stained jeans, flannel shirt and a Patriots cap, and I pegged him for an auto mechanic interrupted in the middle of an oil change. After a while, he hailed a passing nurse.

He asked, “Why is my wife taking so long? She’s done this six times already.”

“The baby will be born when it’s ready, Mister Stanley. Please have a seat. We’ll let you know as soon as there’s news.”

“It’s gotta be a boy this time, right? I’m goddamn sick of her having girls.”

“Sir, please sit down and relax. She won’t be much longer.” The nurse walked away, and he returned to his chair.

I was nervous too. Yesterday I’d held my wife’s hand as she lay on a gurney and screamed bloody murder. She had been in labor for over 24 hours, going on forever.

“It’s our first,” I told the man. “We’ve waited eight years.”

“Our seventh,” he said. “Six girls! She goddamn well better give me a boy this time.”

“It’s the father who – ” I stopped myself.

He let out an exasperated sigh. “I’m surrounded by them at home! Everything’s dolls and pink ribbons. There’s nobody for me to play ball with, nobody to teach about being a man. God, I want a son. Don’t you want a son?”

“I just want a healthy baby.” I yawned and looked at my watch. “And for this to be over with.”

“I’ll name him Arthur Stanley, Junior.”

Time stretched out like taffy. An eon later, someone paged me on the loudspeaker. I hurried down the hallway, where a doctor handed me a clipboard and said something like “your wife can’t give a vaginal birth and she and the baby will die if she doesn’t have an immediate Caesarean section and it requires your approval and you have no choice so sign here NOW.”

So I did. And my exhausted brain fought my fears to make room for – for a family.

A nurse approached Arthur Stanley. “Your wife had a beautiful, healthy girl,” she said. Stanley flung his hat against the wall and stomped away.

A few minutes later, she beckoned me. “Your wife is resting and your son is beautiful,” she said. “Want to see him?”

I did.