A Lovely Monster is a parody of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein filtered through a sexy 70s lens. Funny but not as funny as Young Frankenstein, fun but not as fun as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Richard De Marinis’s novel is more self-aware and digs deeper into its 19th century source material.
It’s also like a Bizarro World version of Frankenstein. Instead of being a misunderstood, unloved wretch, this monster is attractive, makes friends easily, gets a job and enjoys an active sex life. The author even flips the emotional dynamic. “I wanted you to think of me as your father,” says Dr. Kraft Tellenbeck to his newborn creation. “I asked you to call me by my first name. You remember? But you refused. You rejected me. YOU REJECTED ME.”
But it’s funny how things turn out. Even though the patchwork monster is a stud, and the doctor is an emotional wreck, the end results mirror Shelley’s original narrative. “I am out of place,” admits the monster, “and as long as I live, I always will be.”
When he first rises from the slab, the monster is simply known as Alpha Six, initially nothing more than a successful experiment to Dr. Tellenbeck. But after a few weeks of watching old movies on television, he picks a name for himself. “I am not a machine with nomenclature,” he announces one day. “I am a person. Call me Claude Rains.”
Rains, of course, is the actor famous for being filmland’s Invisible Man—a man who can’t see himself unless he’s wrapped in bandages. “There is a sadness in this,” says the monster who intuitively understands the Invisible Man’s existential predicament.
Even though A Lovely Monster contains layers of sadness, the beginning of the novel is actually quite funny. Claude is a golden boy full of confidence and sexual swagger “The fear of dysfunction is not strong in me,” he says without blinking.
He is confident and rightly so. Imagine being young and beautiful in Hollywood during the 70s—Warren Beatty or Don Johnson for example. Imagine also having the cock of a Shetland stallion and the balls of a mountain gorilla. “It’s a nice piece of artillery,” says one admirer.
Claude’s circle of friends represents broad caricatures of L.A. culture at the time. One woman is a curvy nudist obsessed with est therapy, another woman is a landscape painter who is sexually adventurous and one guy speaks in outdated hipster lingo like Maynard G. Krebs.
But it’s Dr. Tellenbeck who is Claude’s biggest champion. Right from the beginning he cares for his creation like a baby. He holds his hand and dries his tears. He is Claude’s number one fan (until he isn’t).
And then slowly, as everybody knew would happen, Claude reaches a peak of dispause. His flesh starts to sag off the bone, his toes fall off and he suffers from impotency. “Mechanical breakdown due to inferior materials and indifferent workmanship is growing at an alarming rate,” he notices while looking at his reflection in the mirror.
And like Shelley’s monster before him, Claude becomes melancholy and morbid. He embarks on a spiritual journey of transformation to escape dreams of angry villagers carrying torches. Even though he’s a science fiction icon, he knows science can’t be trusted.
[A Lovely Monster / By Richard De Marinis / First Printing: January 1976 / ISBN: 9780671221751]