Review: 'The Unimaginable Road', by Eddie Drueding
The Unimaginable Road, a.k.a. Arraborough, Book One, begins when six wandering animals coincidentally meet in a Blackwood Forest clearing near a mysterious abandoned house, on a prairie far from the nearest town, about a mile from the cliffs over the Balaba Ocean. The animals – cousins Slick and Slither Snake, Inkwell Pig and Wild Boar (also cousins), Tust Turtle and Hillany Chicken – have all been drifting through one animal region and city after another – Ellineste, Loragin, Thilomina, Hoglarotha, Serpenton – looking for someplace where they can feel safe.
To fill the heavy silence [around the campfire], the snake with vertical green stripes and the perpetual scowl says, ‘I’m Slick. We’re cousins. We went through a pretty bad time in the spring, back in Anilton. Slither had the idea that there must be a better, safer place to live, so …’” (p. 6)
They compare depressing notes, and Slither proposes that they build their own commune, a sanctuary, right where they are.
Tust looks at him curiously. It takes a few moments for this to sink in with Slick, but when it does, the snake splutters, ‘Say what? Slither, there’s nothing here!’
‘Then we’ll build what we need,’ says his cousin happily. ‘First we need to buy the land. It can’t cost much, being next to a couple cliffs and all. We’ll use my parents’ life insurance money.’
Tust rubs his chin thoughtfully with a knuckle. ‘We can farm the land for food, and set up some sort of self-sustaining power generator.’ (pgs. 8-9)
Over the next few weeks, the commune grows. Several neighboring animals, hired to help with the construction, like the idea of “A place where anyone can come and live free, be happy, and be safe” (p. 8), and decide to stay. Fespin, a silently enigmatic Blackwood Forest young squirrel, introduces them to unexplored caves beneath them, and to the abandoned stone RockHouse, in strangely good condition. The animals decide to make RockHouse their headquarters. As soon as the commune is larger and well-enough developed, and named Arraborough, Slither brings his wheelchair-bound sister, Narcine, to live there.
What the animals do not realize is that (a) the authorities of the nearest city’s Criminal Activity Counter Force, sure that the commune is a cover for a crime scheme of the terrorist Serpent Society, are surreptitiously watching and waiting for an excuse to arrest everyone, and (b) two charismatic new animals, Pimlico Calico and, later, Dovan Dog, both with curiously luminous eyes and patches of blue fur, who quickly become everyone’s friend, have both a secret agenda and unsuspected powers.
The Unimaginable Road covers Arraborough’s founding and the first few months of its existence. About twenty residents are featured, and their life stories and secrets are revealed. Many are mundane; some are depressing (Arraborough has been settled by “refugees” from normal animal society), and a few are eerie. Old and maybe senile characters remember Fespin from their youths; he has stayed a strange young squirrel for generations. When others try to take Fespin into the nearest town with them, the terrified young squirrel is literally unable to leave the forest; the vehicle he is in is dragged backwards. A leading character mysteriously disappears. There is a lone headstone engraved in an unknown language. There are cryptic warnings to never go into the caves beneath the forest. Exotic primates arrive. Fespin excitedly insists that a tree tried to kiss him. Someone enters the caves and dies.
The Unimaginable Road is well-enough written to keep the reader turning pages to find out what happens next. The reader won’t find out; the book ends with a cliffhanger and “To Be Continued in … ARRABOROUGH, BOOK TWO: THE DARKNESS.”
Well, this first novel is subtitled Arraborough, Book One. According to the publisher’s website, Drueding “created Arraborough in the summer of 1981 as a comic strip of a blue-eared dog, later elaborating the story into hundreds of comic books, until converting the premise to novels in the 2000's. In its 30th year, the story finally saw print as an e-book published by Melange Books.” (The trade paperback edition is published through Lulu Press.) Melange Books was written up on Flayrah in May 2012 as the first non-furry publishing company to create a “Furry/Anthropomorphic” category among its “Action & Adventure”, “Horror”, “Sci-Fi”, “Women’s Fiction”, “Western”, and other “books by genre”.
Drueding has one of the strangest approaches to anthropomorphic fiction that I’ve ever seen. In a Foreword, he describes this world as inhabited by animals that are natural and unclothed, except that they are humanoid, stand upright, and can speak. Okay, but …
Despite using animal descriptors constantly, and jarringly referring to their natural ages – a dog is mature at two years old and elderly or dead of old age by fourteen – it is almost impossible to think of these characters as anything but human or comic-book type funny animals. Mammals, reptiles, or avians, they are all the same size.
- “A young man named Slither Snake …”
- “Slither has a bandage on his forehead. Slick is stretched out on the couch, propping up a magazine in his lap but keeping an ear on the conversation.”
- “The four bridge players are deep in their game. Each considers the next important move in the game. Hillany is remembering how her ace was ruffed. Inkwell is wondering what would happen should east refuse the ruff. Breth is considering an early spade play. Hylan, however, is concentrating more on his behaviour throughout the game and how he might be perceived by the others.” (The bridge foursome are a chicken, a pig, a sloth, and a hyena.)
- “She is older than most of the young people who have joined the reptile commune, but she isn’t yet middle-aged. She has a thick coat of tangerine-brown fur, topped off with a luxuriant swirl of head hair framing a serene, fair face.” (That is a sloth, driving Arraborough’s commune van.)
- “That afternoon, a car pulls up alongside of the barn, and Albin and Barelle Eagle look out excitedly at the community.”
- “A wary Hillany [remember, she’s a chicken] slowly climbs aboard a stool at the bar, watching the spiny anteater as he fumbles around with the different bottles, concentrating as he carefully measures out various ingredients.”
- “‘I don’t understand, Mr. Calico,’ says [Slither Snake’s aunt] Aldessa. ‘Why are you here? What interest do you have in what my nephew is trying to accomplish by building this community?’ The cat, still lost in his thoughts, doesn’t respond.”
How successfully ‘morphic The Unimaginable Road is will depend on each reader’s personal opinion of what “anthropomorphic fiction” means.