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Spotlight on: The Nature of Monsters by Ronald Damien Malfi

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The Nature of Monsters by Ronald Damien Malfi Ronald Damien Malfi, The Nature of Monsters

"I'll bet Jesus drank like a goddamn Irish sailor," Sweeny said. "I'll bet He turned water into wine and kelp into marijuana and frigging matzos into high-octane cocaine.... I'll bet He called everyone around the table during the Last Supper and showed them how to turn their lousy cod platters into strips of veal and venison and fat cuts of juicy sirloin.... Jesus Hector Christ can throw a hell of a party." -- from The Nature of Monsters

Author Ronald Damien Malfi has chosen to possibly interrupt his rising-star status in speculative fiction, and follow his acclaimed novels The Space Between (science fiction) and The Fall of Never (gothic horror) with a leap in another direction entirely: the classicist literary fiction of The Nature of Monsters. Turns out it was a solid decision, because this is one terrific book.

Robert Crofton moved from his home state of Kentucky to experience the big-city life of Baltimore, write a book, and rekindle his childhood friendship with Rory Van Holt; "Roaring" Rory is now an up-and-coming boxer with a terrific future ahead of him. Robert soon gets swept up into Rory's Algonquin Round Table–style group of rich and powerful (and blithely cruel) friends.

The only other person Robert knows in town is his often-obnoxious cousin Nigel Sweeny, and when Sweeny falls in love with Rory's fiancée, Donna Taylor, it threatens to throw off Robert's already-precarious balance and send his life into a tailspin. It's a situation that can only end in tragedy.

The boxing subplot recalls books and films from the first half of the twentieth century (Robert composes on an Olympia manual typewriter), but Malfi approaches his characters with a modern sensibility (Rory carries a tiny cell phone). Also, their relationship mirrors that of Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby, all of which serves to give The Nature of Monsters a timeless feel, though it is undisputably a modern novel. It is the story of the crossing of the haves and the have-nots, of the consequences of selfish decisions, of the actions of people placed in uncomfortable situations against their will, and especially of weak men and the women who control them (although neither is really aware of it), with a surprising finish that recasts all that came before.

I should also mention that this book is the inaugural publication of 5 Story Walkup, a burgeoning publisher that has set itself apart by not doing so obviously. Their tagline, "We publish [ ________________ ] stories," suggests they don't want to limit themselves to anything but the best, in whatever guise it presents itself. Kudos to them for rescuing The Nature of Monsters from its author's file drawer (where it sat for years because, he didn't know how to market a story with no genre) and giving it a chance it might not have had otherwise.

I look forward both to their next choice and to the author's next book. Ronald Damien Malfi has seen the monsters, and they are us.

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