Charlotte's Web this ain't. William Kotzwinkle's backlist
novel Dr. Rat combines a cautionary dash of Orwell's
Animal Farm with the rancid horror of Sinclair's The
Jungle to tell a blackly funny, savagely critical tale of humanity's
mistreatment of the other animals sharing our world. Dr. Rat
goes for the throat with appalling accuracy, clawing at the emotional
core we try to protect with logic and reason. This novel forces us to
look at the cruelly seamy underside of animal experimentation, slaughtering
houses and overhunting. Told with a savage humor that does nothing to
cushion the blow of confronting our own barbarism, Dr. Rat
stands out as a masterpiece of recognition and rage.
The title character is a laboratory rat long mad from running the maze.
Dr. Rat rants insanely about the glories of the research scientists who
perform torturous experiments on Dr. Rat and his fellow captives. "Death
is freedom," he shouts again and again. But the lab animals are being
swayed by revolutionary images from a newcomer to their prison, a stray
dog used for a heatstroke study:
It's so hard to get their interest. The dog's program is more
subtly suggestive. It works on the weakness of my fellow rats. They don't
realize that we're the friends of man, that we're here to serve humanity
selflessly in every way we can. For only in man does one find the divine
spark. The rest of us live in darkness, without souls.
just basic models, fellow rats! Don't you understand the meaning of that?
A basic model has no feelings, has no spirit. Man is able to twist us and
starve us and cut off our tails because that's the law! Haven't you read
St. Thomas Aquinas? Animals have no soul!"
But while Dr. Rat gaily recites the gratuitous atrocities performed
on his fellows by the Learned Professor and his graduate assistants --
"Nobody knows exactly what he's doing, or why. It is sufficient that
each month we mention cancer and a new kind of plastic." -- the revolution
brewing inside the lab mirrors a great gathering of every sort of animal
in the outside world. The story flashes to the mind of a different creature
for a chapter, either one suffering at the hand of man or one beginning
the trek to the mustering, then flips back to Dr. Rat's lone stand against
the rebelling research subjects.
All the animals of the world are gathering to become the One Animal,
to experience themselves as the soul (so to speak) of the world. At last
representatives of every species are present at the great meeting, except
for one: man. The animal world stands in silence, waiting for the
appearance of the one holdout. When humans finally show up, the One Great
Animal will, at least for one shining moment, come back into being, but
the fallout will be unspeakable, catastrophic, apocalyptic, but not for
even an instant surprising.
The power of the pen in the hands of this great modern satirist is
considerable. Rage flows out of the prose like red-hot lava, incinerating
everything in its path. Dr. Rat ignites emotions that most
of us are less than comfortable experiencing; all the more reason to
read this book and to open your eyes.