Born in August of 1950, a talking and reasoning toy elephant made from a leatherette baby mattress writes a novel over forty-five years later about the discovery of life. Nathan Emmanuel né Christ remembers belonging to a beautiful young child named Emma Louise, but that’s foggy in comparison to the thirty years he spent in a dusty attic with books as his only companion. Nathan ends up in a New York City flea market in August of 1995 with only one button eye. Luckily for them both, Nathan is discovered by theater instructor and director Morgan Johansson. It takes just one moment’s touch for the two to connect, and Nathan is reborn. He then goes on to prompt and cajole Morgan into truly living life, weaseling them into different adventures that eventually lead to Morgan helping a fledgling theater company with its upcoming production.
Nathan reads like an in-joke for the literary elite; I didn’t understand all the references. More realistically, I probably didn’t even catch one-fifth of the references. Despite this, the novel is understandable in its full circle from preamble to finale, and elephant Nathan’s musings are enjoyable. Even more so, the novel explores the journey of the three characters that specifically have passed the august of their lives without an excess of positive excitement (Nathan, Morgan, and Sadie), but now have a burgeoning sense of wonder and adventure. Therefore the novel becomes about so much more than the unlikely and otherwise completely unremarked-upon narrator of the talking toy elephant. It demonstrates through fiction that it’s never too late for one to really begin his or her life. It’s never too late to live.
Although my favorite character was Mr. Douglas Fredericks (I caught that one), who quirkily played the role of mystery man quite well, my favorite scene didn’t include him at all. Morgan and Nathan go on a trip to a large bed and bath store that is full of everything neither bed nor bath, browsing through a litany of outlandish wares. Stephens employs such humor that pokes at our everyday lives throughout the novel with a delightful touch of whimsy.
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