“Woo the muse of the odd,” wrote Lafcadio Hearn.
Speaks to me of my novel, Savage Girl, its manuscript just now revised. Well, it probably still needs a word changed. And another. And another. But the book is basically done and on its way to publication by Viking.
I think the character of Savage Girl herself shines out more now than before. Discovered as an adolescent in a Virginia City, Nevada side show in 1875, she is being displayed as a wild child – one raised by wild beasts. All sorts of mystery surrounds her.
The locals line up to ogle her. Then a seriously wealthy couple from New York City come out West to inspect their silver mines, adopt the girl, and bring her back East to raise her up as a debutante.
It was a time when people were fascinated by the differences/connections between beasts and humans (Darwin, etc.) and the question of whether this young girl can be civilized is pivotal. In the process, worlds crash together, and murder and mayhem ensue.
The narrator of this tale, a young anatomy student named Hugo Delegate, takes as his mentor Andreas Vaselius, the founding genius of anatomical art who in 1543 published an illustrated book called De humani corporis fabrica (“On the Structure of the Human Body”). The drawings shocked the Rennaissance, showing the human animal demystified. More questions of what makes us human.
Together, Hugo and the Savage Girl go on adventures through Gilded Age Manhattan, searching for the bad guys, discovering each other. Oddities of all sorts prevail. It was a fabulously odd book to work on. And I hope other people will read it in the same spirit.