“Mystics making monsters from incantations”

By John C. A. Manley

Back in November, I wrote a review of acclaimed novelist Colin McAdam’s essay (from Canary in a COVID World) in which he criticizes the liberal arts community for selling their souls to the COVID agenda.

After reading McAdam’s essay, I immediately ordered his latest novel, Black Dove — a story about “genetic editing and the adventures of a grieving father and son.” I had a feeling I was going to love it.

Around page 40, however, I wasn’t feeling too much love. It was moving too slowly and the sentence fragments were getting on my nerves. I don’t mind a sentence fragment here and there, I even use them in my novel, but this was overkill. But I always give a book until page 50. And by page 50 the story turned in a direction that kept me turning pages.

Fragment sentences aside, McAdam makes up for the grammatical homicides with some rich prose such as:

“Sometimes he stared at the words he wrote, like meaningless marks. How do they go from letters to meaning to story? Abracadabra comes from the Aramaic: I create as I speak. Letters are a conjuring. Mystics making monsters from incantations.”

The story is about a boy who has lost his mother and is being raised by his father who is a novelist. Since I am a widowed novelist raising a son, I thought it would be a good story for us to read together.

Jonah, however, didn’t agree. Even beyond page 50, he was trying to convince me to shelve the book. But by page 100, he was hooked and wanted to know the end.

So we endured — as another gem in the book expressed:

“Positivity. Endurance. What makes one person thrive and another fail? I know exactly where sadness lives. That place where you give up, forget how to fight.”

My son also enjoyed the sci-fi fantasy aspect of it — as the youngster in the story undergoes genetic engineering to make himself superhuman. In addition to editing his genes, the mad scientist also replaces his underperforming gut and skin bacteria:

“They were getting rid of his old microbes, the world of tiny animals that lived on his skin and in his gut. They thrived on him being exactly who he was, their genes telling him to keep up his routines, do the wrong things, give up when something felt too hard.”

Much Ado About Corona: A Dystopian Love Story

Horrifically, the gene editing involved mixing animal and human DNA, breeding some rather dark characters that feast on the internal organs of the residents around High Park in Toronto (which is where my wife and I used to live). The villain describes his genocidal goals as such:

“‘He knew, they all know, that I have given them the hunger for others that I have given to all the beasts. The need to eat that will ensure that the mess of the past will be swallowed.’

“He stopped there in the woods and said, ‘If everything eats everything else, what will be left?’

“‘The best,’ I said.”

Survival of the fittest cannibal theme aside, the recurring message about facing nihilism was what kept me reading:

“Reduce the world to ash and try to find the beauty in the bleakness. Tell yourself that you can’t bear another loss, sing that pain, and find yourself losing again, still singing, until your lips are thin then gone and the world is truly empty, skeletons lying sere in an asthmatic wind, and you still, lying among them, hope the wind will sing through the holes in you. Truth is found in the dark places, the darkness resides not in its discovery but in the effort to avoid it. So you lie there as a skeleton among the others, enlightened.”

The story’s climax was quite satisfying, if not happy. The epilogue, however, sort of unwound the entire story and felt like a letdown at first, even if it did provide a happy conclusion. But having had time for the novel to settle in my gut, I’ve come to appreciate the ending, which was really a beginning.

The story is about not trying to escape pain and sadness. As the widowed father tells his motherless son near the end of this urban fantasy:

“I know I wanted to tell you a true story that has a happy ending, and I will, I promise. But I want you to know in your heart that it’s OK sometimes not to be happy. Not to search for escape at the cost of all reason and wish that you had wings. It’s OK to know, even to focus on the fact, that you will be hurt and lose people you love, and that life will often be hard.”

It’s a dark story, that gets darker but ends with the darkness being shattered by a ray of sunshine. It wasn’t always an enjoyable read, but it was a rewarding one. As the author writes:

“Do difficult things and learn the sad histories. Look at your demons in stories and you will be strong for it. Stronger than anyone who cannot face those truths.”

You can purchase a copy of Black Dove by Colin McAdam at https://blazingpinecone.com/shop/black-dove/ and read my review of Colin McAdam’s essay from Canary in a COVID World at https://blazingpinecone.com/news/2023/11/25/


John C. A. Manley is the author of the full-length novel, Much Ado About Corona: A Dystopian Love Story. He is currently working on the sequel, Brave New Normal. John lives in Stratford, Ontario, with his son Jonah, and the ever-present spirit of his late wife, Nicole. You can read his full bio, find out more about his novel or subscribe to his Blazing Pine Cone email newsletter.

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