By KENNETH COOK (Futura; 1978)
In tried-and-true ANIMAL FARM fashion, this provocative novella relates a metaphoric fable of the animal world with more than a hint of the satiric nastiness of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” Profusely illustrated with Edward Gorey-esque drawings by the author’s daughter Megan Gressor, it’s told in the all-knowing God’s-eye tone that tends to characterize fables, actually opening with God himself as the focus.
It seems God has grown tried of dealing with Earthly problems and so, in the year 2000(!), decides to put an end to all life on Earth. But He inadvertently leaves a couple of mice named Adamus and Evemus alive in the middle of the United States. Having been touched by the hand of God, Adamus and Evemus find themselves gifted (if that’s the word) with human levels of intelligence, and set about repopulating the deserted town wherein they find themselves situated.
At first everything runs smoothly, but Adamus and Evemus’ offspring reproduce at an alarming rate. Adamus and Evemus, together with an assistant named Logimus and a carefully selected governing board, attempt to control the population by consulting the literature left behind by mankind (specifically the Bible and the New York Times). They decide a war is the best way to reduce the population, and so, attempting the replicate the human world’s constant fighting between the left and the right, order left-handed mice to go to war against those that are right-handed.
The resulting skirmish and the many that follow succeed in killing off a large portion of the populace, but not enough. Thus the governors utilize an even more efficient killer of humans: the automobile, which they manufacture in mass, and which again succeeds in killing off quite a few mice. Again, though, there are not enough deaths, and so the board introduces such things as tobacco, alcohol and abortions, and even leaks plutonium into the town’s water supply, resulting in a lot of mutated mice.
Eventually, nearing the end of his life and facing the prospect or permanent overpopulation, Adamus hits upon a singularly macabre Final Solution that’s without precedent in the human kingdom. (SPOILER ALERT!!!) This “solution” is implemented in the final pages, and the tale ends with two haunting sentences: “Logimus screamed. And screamed.”
It should be added that this book is set in America yet has never seen print on these shores, and was written by an Australian. This is evident in the use of the metric system in measuring distances and words like “gaol” (prison to us yanks). But those things aside this is a wonderful book, consistently funny, entertaining and uncomfortably on-target.