I don’t know what it is lately, but I’ve read like 4 novellas in a row where i hadn’t really read any in the past two. ANYWAY.
The Only Harmless Great Thing is not what you might consider a normal novel. It combines the perspectives of two different eras and two different species (elephants and humans). It’s still linear but feels more free flowing and less structured as a narrative.
The first perspective is from a Radium Girl named Regan and the elephant Topsy. They were both working in a factory that works with radium. Regan is dying from the exposure to radiation. What is different in this book is that elephants have a sign language and have their own language and stories (perhaps more sentient than our own elephants). As they discovered the issue with radiation poisoning, the factory owners purchased Topsy to take over the work – even though she’d die eventually anyway.
The ending for both of them is different than what happens in our historical timeline.
And that cover! Honestly, I bought it for the cover.
The other timeline is much farther in the future. Elephants are recognised as sentient and a scientist has to offer a plan to one of the elephant matriarchs. Essentially, the problem is telling people in the future not to go near nuclear waste. The plan the character Kat suggests is to have the elephants guard it, giving them the land all around.
The two stories intertwine, telling the story of exploitation but also this problem that humans have created.
It’s a very quick read, a cool 89 pages. But it’s quite weird in a good way. The oddness of some familiar history but with the perspective of the elephants. I very much enjoyed the alternative history vibe – it was just very cleverly woven together. The way the elephants spoke, told stories and had their own myths and creation story was also very cool. The cadence of it was very other-worldly without being over done.
Anyway, you’ll whip through it quickly. It’s totally interesting and different. Give it a go!