Liz Kay's MONSTERS: A LOVE STORY
There’s a special enjoyment that can come out of reading a book that responds to another. In a way, all literary endeavors are a kind of response—they all owe their existence to writings that have come before. Literature is a great conversation across time and space, and writers become writers because of what they’ve read. But sometimes a writer chooses to respond in a more conscious way to a book that’s been influential in their own life.
That’s what Liz Kay has done with her debut novel, Monsters: A Love Story. Inspired in part by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, it tells the story of a recently widowed young mother, a poet whose novel-in-verse has just been picked up by Hollywood. The poet’s book is called Monsters in the Afterlife, which is itself a response to Frankenstein. Liz Kay herself is a poet. So there’s this delightful doubling going on: we’re reading a real book by a real poet about a fictional book by a fictional poet making a fictional movie, and all of these creations—fictional and real—are responding to Mary Shelley’s fiction, created almost two hundred years ago. It’s like entering a hall of mirrors, where the reflections of reflections appear as vivid as the real image itself. Plus, Monsters is witty, sharp and great fun to read.
In this scene, the narrator—Stacey Lane—is meeting with the scriptwriter, Joe, another member of the team, Alan, and the movie star, Tommy DeMarco, at Tommy’s lavish California home. They’re talking over the script. Stacey doesn’t like it much:
The script is much, much worse than not very good. We’re sitting on the terrace, and I’m thumbing through the hard copy in my lap. I’m the only one still reading, though I’m not reading so much as stalling. I’m not sure where to start. “I think one problem is that you’ve sort of taken the poems and turned them into dialogue. I mean, you’ve plucked out all the good lines and given them to different characters.”
Joe nods. “Obviously, we’ll have to add to it.” He looks older than me, which probably means we’re the same age, mid-thirties. I’m always surprised by my own age. Sometimes I feel older, sometimes younger. I never feel right.
I glance at Tommy. He’s stretched back on the couch next to me. He has his head tipped back, his glasses on. I mean, he could be asleep.
Alan is definitely not asleep. He’s watching everyone. I’m not sure how this all works, if he works for Tommy, if Tommy works for him. I do know that I don’t want to piss either of them off, but I don’t want to let them break my book either.
“Right. But it’s more than that. I mean, this basically reads like kind of a typical Frankenstein movie,” I say, holding up the script.
“Your book is Frankenstein,” Joe says. “Kinky Frankenstein with this Frederick psycho building himself a girl.”
Tommy makes this grunting laugh. I guess he is awake.
“Okay, but this isn’t based on the movies. This is based on the book, the whole nature-of-man discussion?”
Joe looks at me blankly.
I feel myself slowing down, pausing between words, waiting for some recognition to show on his face. “So, where Frankenstein’s creature has a fully human soul in a physically corrupted form, my monster has a beautiful exterior, but she’s evil.”
“I thought the monster was always bad?” Joe looks at Alan and shrugs.
“The creature only turns when Frankenstein rejects him. But that book is about the corrupting influence of religion. Mine is about gender ideals and sexual power dynamics.”
“Great”—Joe smiles a deliberately strained smile—“a feminist manifesto. That’ll make a great flick.”
Liz Kay's Monsters: A Love Story was published by Putnam earlier this summer. You can find it anywhere books are sold.