An imagined alternate past and present are not so much twined as stacked in this disjointed novella, which introduces elephants into the real-life history of the “radium girls,” factory workers who were poisoned by painting watch and clock faces with toxic material. Bolander describes elephants with human-level intelligence and their own culture who are granted no extra respect or protections despite their ability to communicate with people using a trunk-based form of sign language. The creatures were forced to learn to paint with radium; decades later, their historical association with radioactivity leads to them being used as guardians for nuclear waste sites. The story bounces among points of view and points in time, and between reinvented history and folklore, in a way that can be hard to follow. The lyrical writing is pleasant and builds a certain atmosphere, but readers hoping for a plot or an emotional hook will struggle to tease one out of the skips and hops. (Jan.)
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