Don’t be fooled by this novella’s size, because it packs quite a punch. The synopsis sold me at elephants. And from then on, Bolander’s whimsical and lyrical quality of writing captivated me.
In the early years of the 20th century, a group of female factory workers in Newark, New Jersey slowly died of radiation poisoning. Around the same time, an Indian elephant was deliberately put to death by electricity in Coney Island.
These are the facts.
Now these two tragedies are intertwined in a dark alternate history of rage, radioactivity, and injustice crying out to be righted. Prepare yourself for a wrenching journey that crosses eras, chronicling histories of cruelty both grand and petty in search of meaning and justice
But let’s put that on the back burner and get back The Only Harmless Great Thing (which is a truly spectacular title). I loved the fantastical element from the beginning. The synopsis doesn’t give much away and neither will I. That being said, the elephants become characters in and of itself (which further situates this book in it’s little house in my heart). This alternate US setting is lifelike in a way that is real enough to startle and just different enough to comfort. There is just the right amount of quirk, depth, and wild all packed into a story with no excess.
It’s all boiled down to beautiful sweeping language, intricate themes that twist upon themselves to reveal the depths of humanity, and the right amount of emotions. There’s something heart breaking and touching in these pages that resonates with me on a frequency I have yet to put a name to.
Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for an honest review from the publisher.
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