by Karin Mabry
Genre: Literary Fiction, Fantasy
'Ovidius' follows the lives of members of the Ovidius community, a neighborhood surrounding The Ovidius Zoo, home of Worthington the Tiger. The animals of Ovidius communicate with each other using mental telepathy, unbeknownst to humans. Some, like Godiva the Cat and Sam the Bird, tweak the agreed-upon system to fit their agendas, Godiva, to write poetry, Sam, to wreak havoc. Others, like Philodendrum the Bullfrog and Xavier the human, friend of Godiva, are just trying to figure out who they really are. Written in the fix-up style, ‘Ovidius’ is a beautiful reflection on animals, spirituality and being wild and free.
If you appreciated the dark social commentary using the medium of talking animals that George Orwell employed in his classic story, Animal Farm, you will enjoy reading Ovidius, a dark and sometimes chilling modern fantasy masterpiece by Karen Mabry.
Ovidius is the story of a group of animals who have developed the ability to communicate telepathically with each other. When Worthington the Tiger becomes fed up with being a spectacle for human entertainment, he makes his escape from the zoo and kills Starlight, one of his keepers, as well as two zoo officials.
The other animals pass judgment on Worthington, ensuring that he is sent to a sanctuary, where he kills again. The remainder of the book tells the story from the perspectives of certain animals who took part in Worthington’s trial.
Unlike Animal Farm, which is a metaphor for a specific event (the Russian revolution), Ovidius addresses various sociological issues such as race and class disparities, consumerism, the modern western penal system, religious and philosophical idealism, and the harms caused by gender roles and sex stereotypes. The stories also spotlight such issues as addiction and the failure of the mental health system. Godiva the cat also expresses the division between the way most people view the worth of the creative arts and the way creative individuals view their process.
Worthington the Tiger’s antisocial behavior may have been caused by being imprisoned by humans for their entertainment, although some animals feel that Worthington had a bad attitude. Godiva the cat loses interest in reading and writing poetry when she falls for Clarence, a tough alley cat, and becomes a mother. This is exactly what Clarence hoped for. Xavier, a young human man, was incarcerated in a mental health facility and put on psych medications after wrecking the art room at his high school when he saw his prom date messing around with one of the art students.
There was nothing that I disliked about Ovidius. On a personal level, I particularly resonated with the experiences of Godiva and Xavier.
As a woman, I experienced the expectation that not only should I care for my child when I became a mother, but I should happily give up any personal pursuits. When I had to stop working at the long-term care center where I had been employed for the previous two years because I was having trouble rebounding following an emergency cesarean section, I wasn’t sorry. I hated that job. To be asked to give up on my artistic pursuits, however, felt like losing my soul.
“I didn’t know how much it was hurting my spirit to live as though my heart was a dirty sock. That is how it felt, to be married to someone who desired that I love one thing but stop loving something else, that I put such boundaries and restrictions on my natural inclination towards love.”
--Godiva the Cat
I did find myself giving up on the dream of becoming a professional musician, but I couldn’t abandon the idea of being involved in the arts in some capacity. I continued drawing and writing. Although my son is the most important person in my life and he comes first before even my personal pursuits, my personal pursuits are essential to my happiness.
As someone whose experiences with the American health care system as a whole and the mental health system in particular have been less than stellar, I related to Xavier’s distress.
“Mrs. Knightly had been brought in to help deal with “the troubled boy.” She is not listening to me, Xavier realized, minutes into their first meeting.”
At sixteen, my response to the self-important shrink at St. Anthony’s Hospital was snark. I knew he wasn’t listening and didn’t give a toss, and I wasn’t going to show him respect. Honestly, I’m proud of my younger self for that.
“Xavier just told his counselor what he wanted to hear and went on with his life. The doctors and counselors just wanted to know what they needed to do to keep Xavier sedate and cooperative.”
Helping people find a sense of purpose is much more difficult than giving them drugs to make them compliant. I once read a statement by someone critical of the Western mental health system that the goal of counselors and psychiatrists is not to help people become happy, it is to make them become compliant. I fully agree with this sentiment.
If you’re looking for a feel-good animal story, Ovidius is not that story. If you are looking for biting social commentary where animals do most of the talking, then Ovidius fills the bill. I am pleased to rate this thought-provoking book five out of five stars.
“Poets are not whimsical, they are haunted.”
--Godiva the Cat
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