There are some books I come across in this list that I’ve wanted to read and expect to like. There are even some that are new to me, but I still expect to like. I did not expect much from Alligator by Shelley and Paul N. Katz.
What the heck though, right? As long as it wasn’t Lake Placid, I figured I’d give in a shot.
(For those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 9th for David Foster Wallace. Really? That guy had such odd choices for favorite books considering the kind of writing he did.)
If the Lake Placid reference doesn’t clue you in, Alligator is about a giant gator (well, Lake Placid was about a crocodile I believe, but still). People discover giant alligator. People set out to kill giant alligator that never killed anybody who hadn’t tried to harm it. Bad things happen.
There was something in the water, a shock of ebony, a blackness even darker than the night. The giant shadow resolved itself into a form. Humpbacked like a bull, enormous, almost prehistoric, it had the form of an alligator only it was much bigger than anything Dinks had ever seen. The alligator didn’t move, but lay across the surface of the water like a giant patch of darkness. Dinks could see its blood-red eyes glowing fiery, hypnotized by the magic of the lamp.
Orrin steadied himself against the side of the skiff. He was a good shot, and the target certainly was big enough. He took aim and squeezed off a bullet. He could hear it crack across the water like the Fourth of July. He pulled again.
Before the second shot was even off, a terrible shriek pierced the night. The water began to boil and heave violently. The enormous hulk of the alligator broke the surface: he seemed almost to stand on his tail. Then he crashed back under the surface and submerged, creaking like an old ship.
Dinks looked back out at the water. It too was calm. Perhaps Orrin’s shot had killed the alligator; perhaps it had just scared him. Either way, there wasn’t a sign of him. Dinks smiled. That was a close one, he thought as he took in the burning smoke with pleasure.
Suddenly everything exploded around Dinks. There was a violent shove as the alligator crashed blindly into the tiny skiff, and Dinks could feel himself being wrenched out of the boat and thrown into the air. The earth was gone for him. Water and sky became all mixed up in his mind. There was no pain, only surprise, cutting through his chest like a knife. A flash of light, electric red, seared his brain. Then he fell back into the water, puppetlike, with the strange cracking sound of his own bones in his ears.
A rich man who is used to getting everything he wants set out after the gator. He forced a local guide (scarred by his experiences in Viet Nam) to help him. They hate each other, and the rich man might be the guide’s father. People are out to prove things to each other, and themselves.
The characters are a bit easily marked by their roles, but the major ones have more development than I thought I’d find. I still think they’re all a-holes for not just leaving the gator alone, but there’s more than just ‘man learning the true power of nature and proving manly dominance by taking a stand in the face of it’ inside.
Alligator was nowhere near as horrifyingly bad as I worried it would be. It was actually pretty good. It does have some thrilling aspects, but it took a bit longer getting going on that than I hoped. That was puzzling. Still, there was a lot more going on emotionally than I thought and that was rewarding. It still seemed like pointless human destruction on some level, but at least I could see some of what Alligator was saying. I suppose I should be satisfied with that. After all, it was much better written than I expected.
All in all? Nowhere near what I’d put as an all time best book, but not bad.