Book Review: Monster (2012)
Most postmodern retellings of the classics involve injecting gray into formerly black and white scenarios. The Wicked Witch of the West is more idealistic and tortured than she was wicked. The ugly stepsister isn’t quite so mean. Dracula was totally just trying to help defeat the other evil vampire or something – I admit I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention.
Frankenstein, however, already had plenty of gray to it so Frank Zeltserman gave Monster some color.
Zeltserman’s Victor Frankenstein is a wizard and a bastard, rather than a passionate man of science. Frankenstein murders chemist Freidrich Hauffman’s fiancée, Joanna, and frames him for it so he can steal Freiderich’s brain after the accused criminal’s inevitable execution. He deposits Frankenstein’s brain in a patchwork corpse and brings his monster to life with the aid of some chanting and well placed candles.
Freidrich awakens confused and weak, but fortunately Charlotte – the animated severed head that serves as the prototype for Frankenstein’s monster – is hand to deliver valuable counsel and exposition when Frankenstein’s back is turned. Freidrich is just teaching his new body to walk and talk when he Frankenstein’s benefactor shows up in the lab. The Marquis de Sade shows up to see what exactly he’s been paying for and borrows Charlotte for use as a sex toy as a bonus, just in case you weren’t convinced that Frankenstein and the Marquis are really, really evil.
Freidrich takes this as his cue to leave. He breaks out of the lab and travels to visit his beloved Joanna’s grave. After paying his respects, he makes it his mission to keep tabs on Frankenstein. Freidrich hits the road again, encountering a cast of Satanists, vampires and monks. He finds Victor and, to his surprise, Victor makes him an offer he can hardly refuse. Freidrich can be reunited with Joanne, just as long as he allows one more innocent person to die.
Monster shares some similarities with its source material, but not many. They share a few characters. They share the theme of exploring what it means to be a man or a monster. Interestingly, however, they exist in completely separate universes. The introduction of magic into what used to be a tale of science gone too far was initially jarring (Although, to be fair, Frankenstein’s monster also hung out with Dracula in Hotel Transylvania but in that case both characters had been so twisted by popular culture that it hardly matters).
Yet the combination works. Magic adds an element of an uncertainty to a story almost everyone already knows well. The new characters are interesting and the story moves along at a fast clip. It also serves as quiet acknowledgement that, despite the great leaps in medical knowledge that scientists have made since Frankenstein was published almost 200 hundred years ago, we’re not any close to reanimating a blob of stitched-together dead tissue than we were back then. Based on what we know now, creating Victor Frankenstein’s monster would quite literally require sorcery. And according to Frank Zeltserman, it did.
*** & 1/2
Zeltserman, Frank. Monster. 2012. The Overlook Press, New York, NY.