by Timmy Reed
Underground Voices, 2016
There’s a scene in the middle of Miraculous Fauna where Bobbi and her teen-aged zombie daughter come across an abandoned amusement park in the middle of the desert. Instead of despairing or embracing disappointment, the mother and daughter ignore the barren waste and instead accept the reality and attempt to find the good. When the lights come on and broken, atonal music plays, Bobbi finds the joy in half of a small miracle. She’s long-suffering, long-lonely. And she smiles at misery.
Miraculous Fauna, the newest novel by Timmy Reed, is a road trip in the manner of an American Job, if Job was a single mother with a vaguely demonic Immaculate Conception baby. Bobbi meets a handsome man in a graveyard who may or may not be the devil. She is impregnated and the result is a zombie baby who grows but fails to mature. Bobbi hits the road, abandoning her foster mother, the US government (who are obviously interested in the baby) and searches for enlightenment. She dreams of becoming a normal girl, of Rachel outgrowing her zombie nature, of becoming a saint. She doesn’t ask for too much.
“Anyone who lives a good life is going to be tested by the devil. That doesn’t make them special. It just means they belong to the devil like everyone else.”
Instead of a series of misadventures, Reed writes of brief encounters, almost-hits in Americana. For a time Bobbi and Rachel stay on a park with a park ranger friend; they befriend a YouTube persona and sleep on a couch; they stay with a preacher. Each time Bobbi dreams of becoming accepted and belonging before moving on again. Some of the vignettes are funny, some are sad. No, all are funny and all are sad. It’s the way of life.
Throughout the story are flashes of saints’ lives. Bobbi is obsessed with sainthood and reads from a book she carries with her. She is aware of her suffering and how it dovetails with the sainthood of those that precede her. Does she hope that by silently accepting her fate, the burden she has to bear with her feral, unteachable daughter, she will be raised to the mantle of sainthood? Maybe. By whom, though? Her hopes and dreams are not complex, not well-thought out. In that way, she’s just like every other teenager in America. She does not think deeply, she is narcissistic like everyone else, but she has uncommon clarity from time to time, able to pierce through to what’s not so apparent. “The whole room, Bobbi thought, had a single idea among them. She wasn’t sure it mattered what that idea was.”
Being discovered is a common theme these days. We all think that we have special talent and that with just the right exposure, we’ll find our natural place in the world: at the top. Of course, we’re not all special snowflakes and the crème de la crème rises for a reason; the ones at the top, be they celebrities or saints, rise because they have an overwhelming drive or overwhelming talent. Bobbi, like so many deluded children of the modern era, has neither. She’s ordinary in all ways but one. And when she gets a taste of fame through video exploitation, she realizes it’s not her that’s special, but her daughter.
Despite her desire to be sanctified and accepted, or maybe because, Bobbi of course is in touch with the bleak nature of reality and Timmy Reed, wisely, dips into nihilism only occasionally. Miraculous Fauna is a sad book, but it isn’t humorless, and there are moments of beauty, even in its most cynical. “Life is full of dead things, they should say. It is your fault for participating.” There’s nothing more existential than an educated teenager. And through her journey and through her daughter’s lack of a journey, Bobbi grows.
Countless movies and books have been created detailing the metaphorical journey of self. The road is how characters evolve. From On the Road to the wandering warrior in Kung Fu, they meet people and get in adventures. From there, growth. In Miraculous Fauna, the road is a barometer and a spark plug and a means of escape from reality. Bobbi can’t escape her situation; wherever she goes, her problems follow her. But she grows, slowly, learning how best to accept her life. And in Miraculous Fauna, Timmy Reed has given us a parable of our zombified lives.
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