Family Affair

GargantuaThe title of this book might be misleading to anyone slightly familiar with French literature. Be forewarned, it has nothing whatsoever to do with a 16th century writer named François Rabelais. There’s no Pantagruel, no grotesque realism, no social satire—nothing literary at all. It’s just a story about a giant monster terrorizing a small island in the South Pacific.

But that’s not exactly true either. There are actually four giant lizards in this book: a baby, a big brother, a mommy, and a daddy. It’s a mad monster party with a Gorgo twist.

The first of the gargantuan brood appears pretty quickly (page nine) off the coast of Malau. “The thing was green and scaly, with a small horn protruding from just above the eyes, like some kind of lizard or gecko or salamander or something,” says a witness close to the action.

As each monster thunders across the landscape, the locals struggle to find a way to describe them. Are they dinosaurs, vultures or beasts from a Ray Harryhausen movie? A newspaper reporter describes the creatures as “Ghidrah lookalikes” even though none of them have three heads or wings or anything else. Me thinks King Ghidorah deserves a little more respect.

Oh well, what can you expect? Not everyone grew up watching silly Japanese monster films. If they had seen just one Godzilla movie, they might have solved the mystery of Gargantua sooner. Eventually the Malauans discover what the reader already suspected: Years ago illegal toxins were dumped secretly in the waters surrounding the island. “These creatures aren’t biological anomalies,” says Jack Elway, a visiting marine biologist. “They’ve been mutated by a concentrated diet of artificial chemicals.”

Based on a TV movie from 1998, Gargantua isn’t strictly a giant monster story. The book (more than the movie) has a lot to say about fractured families and the bonds that bind us. As it turns out, Elway and his son have a lot in common with the family of displaced sea creatures. To quote the Eurythmics: “Everybody’s looking for something.”

The events of the novel take place over the course of a single week. “But what a week!” says Elway. Not only does he discover a new genus of reptile, but he also discovers a new path in life. And if he’s lucky, the cute island doctor might someday go out to dinner with him. “I think after all of this,” he muses, “we all, human and reptile, deserve some happy endings.”

[Gargantua / By Keith R.A. DeCandido writing as K. Robert Andreassi / First Printing: 1998 / ISBN: 9780812570984]