It's remarkable enough when an author gets so realistically into the head of a character that it seems we are hearing an actual voice. Even more impressive is the ability to write believably as a member of the opposite sex. But for a real authorial challenge, try expressing the inarticulate, barely sentient consciousness of a monster.




Make that the 40-foot-tall, furry, scaly, feathered, antenna-browed, butterfly-winged, razor-clawed hodgepodge that results when U.S. nuclear testing goes seriously awry on a Pacific Island. That's K., the sympathetic if horrific creature at the heart of David Maine's new novel, "Monster 1959."




Maine, who has lived for the past decade in Pakistan with his novelist wife, Uzma Aslam Khan, has written other novels &

"The Preservationist," "Fallen" and "The Book of Samson" &

that expanded brilliantly on familiar biblical stories. Here he is up to something different.




Reading "Monster" is meant to be the literary equivalent of watching a classic 1950s sci-fi flick, and the characters, dialogue and even the chapter headings have the authentic pulpy aura. Echoes of "King Kong," "Godzilla," "The Thing" and others in the monster vs. mankind pantheon thunder throughout the story, which is both familiar yet refreshingly new.




K., a nearly mindless mass of physical power and Zen-like contentment, is a vegetarian who munches leafy meals and keeps to his unique self, avoiding his nemesis, a winged dragon/pterodactyl/eagle with a bad attitude. The island also sports piranha-like fish, vicious rat-insect hybrids and eight-eyed mole people, about which we don't hear enough.




The island's human natives, themselves irradiated past repair, worship K. as a god and insist on offering up nubile women as sacrifices to the being they believe is the survivor of a battle between Komo ko, the god of dead things, and Kama ka, the god of things living.




K. dutifully if dimly carries off these sweet young things to his nest in a giant tree, but it's the flying raptor who dispatches those who don't fall to their death. Then the civilized world intervenes, inadvertently opening the doors to hell.




Billy, a rapacious entrepreneur; Johnny, a testosterone-soaked safari guide; Betty, his blond botanist wife; and a party of hunters set foot on the island. Before you can say "Fay Wray," K. has carried off Betty, and the men launch a frenzied attempt to rescue her.




Soon enough, K. is in chains on a barge being towed across the Pacific; Billy hatches big plans to capitalize on Johnny's amazing catch; and Betty, who is a smart dame but far too accommodating to men, agrees to co-star in a traveling show that thrillingly recapitulates the seizure and rescue.




Billy loves the money that rolls in, to the point of incorporating it into escapades that may shock the reader. Johnny becomes a monster of his own making, forcing Betty into having ever more public sex.




K., kept tranquilized, inches into a new realm &

that of thinking &

and shows more humanity than this greedy gaggle of humans ever will.




Readers who've seen this movie genre will know what's coming, but nevertheless marvel at what happens when K.'s keeper stops doping him up. The denouement involves the police, the Army and the Statue of Liberty. It doesn't end well, but it does end spectacularly.




Then, in a coda 100 years later, we are back on the island, where the natives have mutated and the gods seem to have switched identities, unless there has been a massive failure of proofreading. Indeed, in several spots earlier in the book, Maine commits anachronisms &

Tribeca and Mother Teresa weren't commonly referenced in the '50s.




Maine does something else that may discomfit some readers, but it is no unwitting mistake. He links the greed, exploitation of the weak and power-lust that ensure K.'s fate with such scandals as the Tuskegee syphilis experiments and the imperialism practiced by Europe and America. He also takes a pro-Palestinian stance, quoting speeches by Churchill and Golda Meir that are disquieting, to say the least.




Some reviewers see his geopolitical musings as a distraction from a ripping good adventure, but Maine makes them critical to the story of K. Truly monstrous behavior, Maine is telling us, is not that of his gentle giant, but that of the perpetrators of wrongs against fellow creatures, even those who don't seem human at all.