January 2005

Adam Lipkin

fiction

Travel in the Mouth of the Wolf by Paul Fattaruso

Novellas and novelettes are finally starting to come into their own, with small presses like Subterranean publishing them standalone in hardcover format, instead of cramming them into anthologies to compete for attention with short stories. Although the individually published short novel is usually something only top-tier authors can get away with, Travel in the Mouth of the Wolf, the debut of Paul Fattaruso, is a mature, astonishingly well-layered novelette, and the one of the best proofs that the format can stand on its own.

Travel in the Mouth of the Wolf starts by introducing us to a character named Iple, rendered deaf as a child thanks to a truck accident that's as convoluted as the accidents in the Final Destination movies. He ends up as a researcher in Antarctica, where yet another strange series of events leads to the discovery of a frozen Brontosaurus. Upon getting the creature out of Antarctica and unfreezing her ("There was only so much they could do with a frozen dinosaur," the drolly ironic narrator points out), the dinosaur remembers her past (including her name, Isabella), and the plot, already strange, takes a turn into the surreal.

Fattaruso populates his book with some of the most eccentric characters this side of a Kurt Vonnegut novel (like Vonnegut as well, the chapters in this novel are often only a page or two long). The ex-president of the US in this book is a man so secretive that, to hide the dinosaur, he builds a secret lab in Argentina and conceals it underneath a solar and wind-powered baseball stadium. The team that plays in that stadium has a superstitious shortstop who is the most beloved man in his country, capable of playing without a glove. And more and more characters get added to the mix.

And then the dinosaur learns to communicate, and things get really weird. We learn the secret history of the human race, and the time on Earth before humanity (as we know it) evolved. To say more would spoil most of the second half of this book, but Travel in the Mouth of the Wolf is much more than a straightforward (or even absurdist) novella. In just over 100 pages, it's nearly a prose poem at times, as intent on examining human nature (past and present) as a whole before filtering through a few oddball characters. Fattaruso throws together his own creation myths, hefty doses of humor and pathos, and more than a touch of magical realism, and this short novel provides a better read than many books three times the length.

Travel in the Mouth of the Wolf by Paul Fattaruso
Soft Skull Press
ISBN: 1932360492
112 Pages