Monday, November 29, 2021

Ovidius Review



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.

Worthington the Tiger
Worthington the tiger’s weariness with captivity was a heavy truth, a reluctant move towards his acceptance of the blatant prejudice of God’s blessing of some animals with autonomy but not others. His family had accepted their lives of salvation denied, agreeing that by divine design, some animals were born condemned to human servitude, such as they, living in a zoo. Worthington fully disagreed.
W could source the beginning of his increasingly dire irritation with his life to the moment he first considered where the misfit animals went. The whole system seemed sinister to him. If an animal didn’t fit in at the zoo, they were taken away, never to be seen nor heard from again. Gone, he thought, annoyed at the idea. Thus began a torrent of curiosities, becoming an irrational pattern of thinking, growing less reasonable every time W considered the options for the rebellious animals.
Philodendrum the Bullfrog
Philodendrum woke in his Ovidius neighborhood and began his day like any other. He kissed on his wife, Philomena, played with his kids and went to work. It was when he sat down to eat his lunch that his world fell down around him, pulling him with it, to the ground, P landing with a thud. Not taking the necessary steps to ensure one’s soul can tolerate one’s lifestyle will lead to the body revolting. P’s heart muscles openly declared they had had enough, that being a sinner’s heart was just too grueling. The heart went on strike, its only sane choice. To that end, everything else in Philodendrum started to say their goodbyes as well. Take care all, his organs shouted to the world, we loved you and this beautiful Earth, but it is time to go!
Godiva and Clarence, the Cats
Godiva was a gloriously magnificent, grey-and-white, part Maine Coon Ovidian cat. She loved poetry, delighted in writing it, relished reading it out loud, even taught other animals of its wonder. Godiva thought that as a genuine purveyor of beauty, she ought to be granted a living for such giving and was slightly miffed that she wasn’t a full-time poet.  Instead, she was forced to endure gatherings of animals who knew next to nothing about an authentic voice, who wouldn’t know a real poem if it bit them in the butt. To them, she must reveal her deepest love, her most closely held desires and beliefs which landed on her students’ deaf, but kind, ears, most of the time.

Clarence’s willingness to learn to read endeared him even more to Godiva. No one in her world wanted what she did. It was selfish, really, what she was asking of him. She wanted a partner in crime. She didn’t want to be so alone in the world of words. Breaching her feline self and the one who was so aware of humans and their thoughts, their fears, their doings as well as their plans had stretched her thin.  Godiva considered her problem from the lens of addiction- she was paying the price for the ride she wanted to take but she yearned for Clarence’s company.
Xavier the Human
No one treated Xavier like a guy who had a good heart. No one saw potential in him, worthy of developing. His future endeavors didn’t matter to anyone at that funeral, nor to anyone in his hometown of Ovidius. They cared when Xavier was young. When he was fresh and innocent, he was showered with support. But when his world disintegrated, and he was left with nothing, that was all anyone was willing to give him- nothing.

Xavier wondered, post release, if all the mood stabilizers and anti-psychotics and anti-anxiety meds, which had wreaked havoc on his entire self, had been more of a blessing than a curse. Not taking any drugs at all showed Xavier how glad he was he didn’t have all his senses about him while he was incarcerated. Life without all those pharmaceuticals was harsh and direct, it was in-your-face. Reality didn’t pull any punches and, at 22 years old, Xavier found himself being expected to deal with himself like a man. But he was not a man. He had been babied by the system, dumbed down and ignored until he no longer listened to himself.
Sam the Bird
Sam had figured out how to do something no other animal had.  He was such a dick. See, Sam was literally the was a voice inside your head that made you believe that that the way you felt about some stupid issue when you were eleven years’ old is still the outlook for you. Though you may have grown and changed, adapted and survived so many things, Sam’s power made others think they were screwed when it came to limitations they created when they knew nothing. Welcome home, he made you think to yourself, because those thoughts are the parameters of your whole world now. You will not feel comfortable unless there are four, solid walls are around your new, supplanted belief, keeping it safe and sound, if unwanted and uninvited. 

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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Hi! Hope you are well and taking good care of yourself and loved ones during these challenging times.

Writing 'Ovidius', my first novel, was a game-changer for me. I wrote a series of novellas then combined them into a fix-up novel, becoming utterly enamored of the medium of the short novel in the process. Telling a story with an economy of words means the use of words is precious. I have found my niche and believe that, literally, everyone should write a short novel. It is delightful, with no fear of being crushed by the daunting task of writing hundreds and hundreds of pages. I have mostly read novels in my life, still yearning to understand what Anais and Jack London have to say about it all. I tried, in 'Ovidius', to create five distinctly different novellas that could stand alone yet come together, seamlessly, as one story.

My poetry books, 'Thrive' and 'A Hamlet of Shelter', were delicious to write, that's all there is to it. I love them and so appreciate my Mother, Maureen, for encouraging me to write what I feel, what I believe. I hope you choose to enjoy what came forth when I gave it a chance. I surely do, each story, each poem, perfectly expressing my belief in presence and imagination. Such a blessing to be human and be able to imagine. All things are possible with God, the God within all of us, Our Father, our collective birthright.

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing your wonderful review of this book, I love the cover and the synopsis and excerpt have intrigued me, this is a must read


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