The Big O

OscawanaThere are many things I hate (Starburst candy for one, cow’s milk for another). But specific to this site, I especially hate authors who write monster novels and don’t fully commit to the genre.

How many times have you read a novel where the monster lurks in the shadows until the final chapter? How many times has an author used vague and unsatisfying descriptive language? In other words: How many times has a monster novel not been a monster novel at all?

I’m happy to report that Oscawana by Frank Martin wholeheartedly embraces the monster novel playbook. The creature (affectionately dubbed “Oscar”) is big enough to blot out the sun when he arises from the titular lake, and there’s plenty of explosive kaiju carnage during his relentless slog from Upstate New York to Manhattan.

When Oscar first shows up, he’s unquestionably a bizarre sight. But he’s far from intimidating. He’s short and fat (about the size of a pit bull) and his face looks somewhat like a Picasso painting. Despite his fierce grotesqueness, says the author, April Hawkins finds the creature to be innocently sweet.

April is a 16-year-old city girl who’s spending the summer lakeside with her mother’s brother. With his dorky grin and nerdy beachwear, Uncle Henry looks like he’s a Monkey D. Luffy wannabe. During April’s first night by the shore of Lake Oscawana, Uncle Creepy sneaks into her bedroom looking for a little One Piece.

And there it is. Author Martin introduces the most enduring genre trope: Man, not beast, is the biggest monster of all. I think we can all agree that pedophilia trumps giant sea blob mayhem every day of the week.

But there was always a chance that Oscar wasn’t real. Maybe April’s imagination was stuck in overdrive. I mean, what made more sense? That she discovered a freaky lake monster, or that her mind was fractured and broken after being abused by her uncle?

The answer comes in one explosive moment. Oscar is real, and April is unintentionally controlling him to do her bidding. She’s using the beast as a murder weapon to wreck vengeance on a couple of horny boys, a grumpy neighbor and a child molester. She even sends him to Manhattan to smash her parents. “Her mission had consumed Oscar and become the only force driving him forward,” writes Martin. “Nothing else mattered or registered in his mind.”

The kaiju action that follows is dramatic and totally satisfying. The author may have been making a point about mankind being the ultimate super monster, but that didn’t stop him from unleashing Oscar upon New York. Let monsters be monsters, that’s what I say.

[Oscawana / By Frank Martin / First Printing: January 2020 / ISBN: 9781922323224]