Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Persimmon Takes On Humanity, by Christopher Locke
Los Angeles, CA, Fathoming Press, February 2015, trade paperback $14.95 (477 pages), Kindle $1.99.
Persimmon Takes On Humanity is blatantly a didactic novel. But it’s a powerful one. In its first few pages Persimmon, a happy-go-lucky raccoon; Scraps, Persimmon’s younger brother; her reluctant best friend Derpoke the opossum; and Rawly, an arrogant rival raccoon dare each other to venture from the safety of Oak Tree Forest to cross the river to the human land, from which no raccoon has ever returned.
“‘Having fun?’ Rawly, an imposing raccoon, stands over them on his hind legs asserting his dominance. He glares at the playful pals. Derpoke goes limp with fear.
Persimmon lets go of Derpoke and leisurely rolls onto her side to face Rawly. ‘Well, well, well, if it isn’t Grumpykins.’
‘Grumpy?!’ Rawly replies, incensed. ‘How about rightfully annoyed that you’re in my territory – again? You think you can just gallivant around all over my trees?’
‘The forest is big enough for all of use to share,’ Persimmon responds defiantly. ‘I’m not intimidated by the silly rules you males force on everyone around you by rubbing your butts on everything.’
‘The most ridiculous thing about you jumping between those trees is that you were doing it to show off to your puny brother and this cowardly opossum.’
Persimmon pops up, indignant. ‘They both have more heart than all of the other raccoons combined. Besides, I did it to prove to myself that it could be done – and maybe to taste the thrill of it.’
‘Huh. Well, if you warriors are so brave, then why don’t you venture past Oak Tree Forest on the other side of the river?’ Rawly provokes.
‘You’re absurd,’ Persimmon jeers. ‘As if you’re courageous enough to venture there. No raccoon has ever gone past that point and lived to tell the tale.’” (pgs. 4-5)
So they all cross to the other side of the river, to see if there is any truth to the rumors of human pollution and death. They find a human world where wildlife like raccoons and opossums are considered to be vermin, to be killed as soon as they are seen. They find a meat farm where humans raise calves – baby bulls — in cramped, filthy cages to be slaughtered while they are still babies to create tasty veal. Persimmon is horrified. She persuades the others to join her in helping the calves to escape from their cages and run back across the river into the forest and freedom.
The big escape is a naïve and almost fatal failure within the first thirty pages. Persimmon and her friends realize that even if they had gotten the calves into the forest, the humans would have immediately come after them. They need to enlist more forest animals to help them, and they need a more practical final goal for the released calves. And that’s just one meat farm.
Persimmon’s ad hoc adventure evolves into a grim, long-term, often depressing, better-planned war between the forest animals and the humans. She learns that it’s too easy to predict 100% victory with no casualties — in warfare there will always be casualties on your side.
Persimmon Takes On Humanity is a curious novel. It’s rare in being written in the present tense rather than the usual past tense:
“Derpoke, Scraps and Bruiser stand at attention facing Persimmon, who is perched on top of a boulder. The squirrel couple, Chloe and Tucker, are in attendance as well, but they’re listening from a tree – Persimmon has vouched for Bruiser, but they’ve had one too many close calls with dogs in the past to make them feel totally safe.” (p. 78)
It’s a curious mixture of fantasy and realism. At the beginning, all animals are noble and all humans are evil. (They do hear about friendly humans later on, if Animal Rights activists can be defined as friendly humans.) The humans casually kill their pet dogs as easily as the wildlife, which even Persimmon knows is extreme:
“Persimmon steps onto the dirt and inches her way toward the dog. Even sitting down, he is imposing. It would take three raccoons stacked on top of each other to reach his height. As she nears him, though, she whiffs in a horrendous stench. That’s when she notices the pile of droppings next to him. Ugh, he’s sitting in his own feces and urine. She has a heartbreaking flashback to the calves. What has happened here? Would a human do this to a dog? … But they love dogs.” (p. 65)
Persimmon realizes it’s hypocritical to blame the humans for killing animals while many of the animals themselves are carnivores and omnivores who prey upon each other. But her attempt to persuade them to all become vegans seems seems quixotic, while the animals’ arguing over adopting a catchy name for themselves just seems frivolous:
“Scraps cuts in, but this time it’s not about fish. ‘Wait, we have to come up with a name for our team.’
‘Oh, right.’ Persimmon scans the group. ‘Does anyone have any suggestions?’
Scraps immediately blurts out, ‘Savvy Saviors!’
‘I’m proud of you for using the word savvy, Scraps,’ Persimmon commends him. ‘But let’s keep brainstorming.’
Scraps shouts again, ‘Rascal Raiders! Hairy Heroes!’
Derpoke jumps in. ‘What is it with you and alliteration? Do you really think anyone is going to take us seriously with names like that? ‘Hi, we’re here to save your life? We’re called the Hairy Heroes.’’
Scraps pouts and challenges the opossum. ‘Okay, know-it-all, do you have anything better?’
‘Well …’ Derpoke hesitates for fear of being shot down. ‘I did come up with one possibility. What about Critter Manumitters?’
The other team members stare at him quizzically.
Scraps bursts into laughter over this silly-sounding word. ‘Oh, that’s much better, Mr. Vocabulary.’” (p. 81)
This review seems to be emphasizing the rare humorous scenes in the novel. They are outnumbered by all the scenes of drama, disgust, despair, and death. Yet Persimmon never gives up her fight, personally and as the leader of a movement, to save all animals – including humans, since humans are just another mammal – from squalor and death. She also learns to be practical, as when she addresses two fierce guard dogs at a fur farm:
“She looks directly at the Rottweilers with a stern expression. ‘Listen to me very carefully. I want to help you, but there are two of you and thousands of minks, and they’re suffering immensely. I’ve heard horrible things about what they’re forced to endure. Right now some of them have open wounds. Some don’t have any water. And some are going slowly insane because they’re trapped in stifling, barren cages. It’s unbelievably cruel, and we’re here to put a stop to it. You’re either with us or against us.’” (p. 146)
Persimmon Takes On Humanity (cover by L. A. Watson) is not a fun novel, but it is a taut adventure. Not everyone will agree with author Christopher Locke’s premise, but he knows how to tell a gripping story. It is realistic enough in its apparently-hopeless drama about a handful of forest animals taking on all humanity through meat farm, fur farm, and especially urban circus settings, to keep you wondering how/whether they can succeed – or survive. There is mounting drama, with major surprises, until almost the last page.
And this is only Book One of The Enlightenment Adventures. Those who read it through to the end will not be able to resist going on to Book Two.