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By Stephen Kiernan. William Morrow. 448 pages. $25.99
Thursday, July 25, 2013
“The Curiosity,” Stephen Kiernan’s debut novel, raises more questions about humanity than the morality of its subject, cryogenics.
Certainly, Kiernan addresses the themes of scientific “God-playing” with the same vitality as his predecessor Mary Shelley, but Erastus Carthage lacks the tortured ambivalence of Victor Frankenstein, and Jeremiah Rice proves far more human than Frankenstein’s monster.
Kiernan’s task is ambitious. He invites the reader to question the extravagance of ego in the reanimation of frozen life. He also asks us to evaluate the role of media and religious protest in the formation of our cultural beliefs.
These seminal questions are well worth the time it takes to breeze through this novel, but the moral issues seem a tertiary concern. Far more important questions about how we see each other and ourselves make this novel more than just another “Frankenstein.”
“The Curiosity” evolves from four narrative voices. Erastus Carthage is the head of the Lazarus Project, an expedition to reanimate life frozen in Arctic regions. Kate Philo is the scientist Carthage employs to help him. Daniel Dixon represents the press and establishes a voyeuristic presence from the onset. Finally, Judge Jeremiah Rice, formerly of Lynn, Mass., in 1906 is the subject offered for scientific observation.
Kate ’s affinity for beauty makes her instantly at one with Jeremiah. Each sees the miraculous wonder of life.
Daniel sees only Kate’s sexuality and offers a superficial view of others and the world. He becomes a caricature of 21st-century shallowness.
Erastus elicits little sympathy as a scientist speaking always in the second person about himself. His objectifications contrast sharply with the three-dimensional landscape offered by Kate and Jeremiah.
Kiernan creates distinct voices in his narrative approach, helping the novel avoid excessive science on the one hand and overt sentimentality on the other. Admittedly, Kiernan loves literary allusion and overindulges in simile. The novel is enjoyable though not brilliant, captivating though not thrilling.
“The Curiosity” makes for the perfect summer fare or vacation read. Just don’t expect it to answer all the questions it raises.
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