cover image A Monster’s Notes

A Monster’s Notes

Laurie Sheck, . . Knopf, $28 (530pp) ISBN 978-0-307-27105-1

Respected poet Sheck delivers a classic poet’s first novel, a long, polyphonic, often directionless sprawl of unconventional narrative. In her poetry, Sheck has striven to mimic the kinesis of the modern mind: an entrapped being, self-consciously at odds with its literary predecessors. But in the shift to fiction, much of her trademark momentum is lost and her fervent brilliance stretched thin. The book takes the perspective of Frankenstein’s monster and interweaves his “notes” on the human race with fictionalized letters of his creator, author Mary Shelley. (Sheck imagines Shelley to have met the monster as a little girl, sitting by her mother’s grave.) It’s an unwieldy project that, like the monster’s body, feels off-kilter and ill-proportioned, while its organizational scheme (by topics of the monster’s interest, such as John Cage’s prepared piano or the ethics of genetic privacy) can make the reading experience feel rather encyclopedic. Still, Sheck’s effulgent, elegant wisdom is impossible to deny. She may not yet be a storyteller, but she is a superb lyricist, and in this new work, she comes across as a fearless philosopher for our times. (June)