Friday, May 13, 2011

The Meowmorphosis (Franz Kafka & Coleridge Cook)

by Thom Dunn

I hate cats.

Now we've got that out of the way. The Meowmorphosis is the latest installment in Quirk Books' literary mashups (made famous, of course, with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). This time, however, they change things up a little bit. Rather than adding horror elements to a story, The Meowmorphosis takes an already frightening and bizarre tale — Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis — and injects it with irresistibly adorable charm.

Also giant kitties. Rather than waking up as a large insect, Gregor Samsa instead awakens one morning to find that he has been turned into a cat.

As a pet owner myself (a chinchilla — definitely not a cat), I often find myself trying to ascribe my pet with human emotions and thoughts to accompany her occasionally bizarre behavior. Part of the wonderful charm of The Meowmorphosis is the way that Coleridge Cook manages to do this for his feline protagonist, in an endlessly entertaining manner. He uses language and speech patterns akin to Poe and Lovecraft (I fear that calling it Kafkaesque would be redundant) to describe the satisfaction — and frustration — of a cat being petted, or chasing a piece of yarn, or even napping. The story still retains the same existential angst as the original book, but the tongue-in-cheek humor of a man suffering through these crises as a cat instead of a bug is truly hilarious.

Cook, along with his writing partner Kafka, also uses this technique to espouse philosophy from the mouths of cats, exploring what it is and what it means to be a member of their species. As someone who is not at all a cat lover (I have terribly allergies, and they know I have terrible allergies, so they like to screw with me), I was endlessly entertained by having an eloquent cat postulate about the things that make them superior to humans (because, as we all know, cats do think they're better than us). But Cook & Kafka manage to articulate why cats might feel this way, from their own point of view, and while the end result is humorous, it's also quite insightful. There were a few points in the book where the long-winded philosopher-cat ramblings carried on a bit too long, but for the most part, I was impressed by Cook's ability to get into the minds of an adorable kitty in such an amusing manner.

The Meowmorphosis, by Franz Kafka & Coleridge Cook

Story: 6.8
Most people are generally familiar with the basic story of The Metamorphosis, even if they haven't read it. For the most part, the story proceeds exactly as one might expect, hardly going past its initial premise but still exploring a plethora of ideas within a limited plot and setting. Basically the entire thing takes place in Samsa's apartment, with him as a giant bug, and then it's over. The Meowmorphosis, on the other hand, takes a bit of liberty with this, and allows Cat-Samsa to escape from the cage of his apartment and run free, as cats are wont to do. I enjoyed this part of the book immensely, but ultimately found myself wishing that there was more of it, and was slightly disappointed in how Samsa's outdoor adventure ended. Still, I commend Coleridge Cook for taking the story in a new and different direction, and I certainly can't blame him for having to adhere to at least some of the story guidelines set by Kafka.

Style: 8.92
Take the proper, long-winded horror prose that we've all come to expect of "classical literature" (specifically the early 1900s). Now add kitties. Some people find that kind of writing to be rather boring, but come on: kitties going on and on in the same way manner? It promises a certainly of ridiculousness, and on that it delivers. Coleridge Cook later lets his own voice shine in the Appendix, which includes a biography of Kafka, as well as Study/Discussion questions based on the book. Here he employs the same dry, ironic humor disguised as formal writing, and it just gets funnier. The Discussion Questions may have even been one of my favorite parts of the book.

General: 8.35
The Meowmorphosis is one of those books that delivers exactly what it promises. If you're a fan of mash-ups and parodies, this one hits the spot. It's a quick, easy read, full of comical beats (I definitely "LOL'd" a few times) and even some philosophical brain food.

Hilarious philosophical brain food.

Overall: 8.02

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