The Second Book: The Elephants, I
In the summer of 1953, Enola, the world’s only “riverboat billboard elephant,” deliberately steps off a raft & drowns herself in the Hudson. Her keepers, German Jr. & Niko, plunge in after her, as if two 14-year-old boys in love could pull an elephant to shore. But as the last links of Enola’s chain pass the bottom boards of the stern of the riverboat Rudder, a chain of inexorable emanations ensnares the boys: That elephant’s end will precipitate death for one, & perpetual pain & imprisonment for the other.
In the summer of 1934, Connor X. Mayne, a recently orphaned American metallurgist & friend of Kermit Roosevelt, publishes to equal acclaim & incredulity the impossible romance of a year adrift in sub-Saharan Africa, culminating in his own ivory-hunting party slaughtering the elephant herd that fostered him after a plane crash. Mayne’s book, The Elephants, I, becomes an unlikely bible to millions of “Mayniacs”—& one of his escaped elephant kin begins a trek to America & a new life in the Hudson Valley.
In the summer of 2003, a middle-aged obituary writer – our unnamed narrator – discovers a walled-up bathroom in the basement of his new house in upstate NY, & launches a quest to piece together the story trapped within those walls since the 1950s, when the boy named German Jr. lived there. His best clue is a dog-eared copy of The Elephants, I, which he uncovers behind the plaster, a strange & meaningful coincidence, as he’s recently lost his job for falsely reporting the death of the enigmatic author, Mayne. With his pedophilic editor, Grady Jonas (a sort of “reader in the text,”) & the “Old Man,” German Sr. (a former undertaker), the narrator commits his life to uncovering the secrets of the past, but all along unraveling the snags in his own life.
The Elephants, I is an epic saga of personal past merging with collective histories, of framed & nested stories, in the vein of Cloud Atlas and Infinite Jest. It elucidates the agony of loss; the hardship of keeping family intact; the bliss of reading the masters; the challenge of translation; & the elusive, joyful, complicated symmetries that intertwine our lives, whatever our species. High concept? One elephant saves three generations on two continents.