Most of us (of a certain vintage, at least) remember when Dolly the Sheep, the first cloned mammal, was born. Nicholas Ponticello, author of Cuckoo Cuckoo does, with this cloning laying the groundwork for his novella. Set in a version of 2016, where Dolly’s cloning has led to those with the funds to do so now cloning themselves, Cuckoo Cuckoo chronicles the misadventures of one such clone.
Narrated by Charles C. Vanderough, a clone of Charles B. Vanderough (or Charlie B, as he is known), who, himself, is a clone of the original Charles Abernathy Vanderough, Cuckoo Cuckoo tells the story of Charlie B, who, after graduating the Price-Harold School for Boys and stepping out into the world, is ready for what he is certain will be a life of luxury, funded by the original’s fortune. Charlie B soon learns the original Charles has only provided a small allowance for him, enough to find some modest accommodation and survive until he finds a job, rather than living in the lap of luxury. Deciding that this situation absolutely will not do, Charlie B determines the best course of action is to move into the original’s estate, now occupied by Charles’ brother, Ron, Ron’s wife, Maggie, and their son, Ethan.
Charlie B sees this as his means to secure the inheritance he believes is rightly his, this is where the fun really begins. Actually, I tell a lie: this may be where Cuckoo Cuckoo’s plot kicks into high gear, but the fun started from the very beginning of the book’s Foreword. From the outset, this book is packed with dark humour that fits perfectly with its high concept plot; something that ensured I had a smile plastered on my face from beginning to end.
A brisk read at only 168 pages in paperback (or an estimated 129 pages on Kindle), this novella packs quite a bit in. While its core plot is fairly straightforward, Ponticello added various scenes set outside the core story that comment on the state of the world, including Trumpism, gun violence and social media obsession. He has written these sections with a wonderfully dry wit, and they juxtapose brilliantly with Charlie B, who while an eighteen-year-old of our time, is, in many ways, an old soul. As the book reaches its crescendo, these sections that initially read like asides come to the fore, connecting to the finale in a beautiful way.
A problem I often find with novellas is they have a tendency of providing an underwritten story. Sometimes, this will result in a simplified tale; other times, they will rush through the events; or sometimes, they will lack enough complexity in the storytelling or the characters. Cuckoo Cuckoo makes no such mistake; it is the perfect length for the story being told, and makes use of the space well. It is clear throughout the book that Ponticello was writing this novella with a clear goal of what he wanted it to achieve—and he achieved it incredibly well.
In addition to the humour present throughout Cuckoo Cuckoo, the author has infused this piece of literary fiction with science fiction, family drama and mystery. The blend of genres works wonderfully; none of them overpower the book. Instead, these elements work hand-in-hand, playing off each other for a combination that draws the reader in, begging them to keep moving through the book. It is easy to suspend disbelief and believe in this world full of clones, the family drama is central to the plot, and forms a large portion of the mystery as you put the various pieces together.
At the epicentre of the book is its protagonist. Charlie B is an unsympathetic character; someone who is entitled, the epitome of the born to rule elite, even though he has been left without the means he so desperately believes he deserves. As unsympathetic as he is, Charlie B is an entirely engaging character, and one whose exploits I enjoyed following. Most of the other characters in Cuckoo Cuckoo are seen through Charlie B’s lens and through the prism of the disruption his sudden arrival means to the Vanderough family. This works well because of the story’s tight focus on Charlie B; however, the exception to this is Maggie, whose character brings some heart to the story.
The book is brought together by its wonderful prose. In place of the omniscient narrator is Charlie B’s clone, Charles C. Abernathy. While it serves much the same purpose, Charles C’s inclusion plays to the clone dynasty set forth by Charles A., and it ensures the narrator is a character unto themselves. Throughout this narration, Ponticello brings much of the book’s wit, and does so in a way that is concise enough to keep the story moving through its limited space while letting all its elements shine.
Cuckoo Cuckoo is a wonderful novella that tells a darkly comic science fiction/mystery story. No space is wasted as it tells Charlie B’s story, bringing the reader along for the journey. This is a high concept book that infuses its disparate elements brilliantly; the various asides not only provide a wry commentary on issues currently plaguing humanity, they work with the main narrative to create a superb finale. From the very beginning to its very end, this book lures the reader in and ensures they have a great time.
All the boys at Price-Harold were worth their weight in gold. But there was a difference between being rich and being rich rich. And up until then, Charlie had always assumed he was merely rich. Vanderough was not a household name like Trump or Woods. Wikipedia described Charles Abernathy Vanderough as an eccentric recluse who dabbled in venture capital and horse racing. Google searches never turned up anything more than his cryptic obituary, which read as follows:
Charles Abernathy Vanderough. Died September 8, 1996. He suffered from a series of complications. And he is survived by a series of complications.Cuckoo Cuckoo, Chapter 6
Cuckoo Cuckoo was provided by the author for the purpose of an honest review.
Cuckoo Cuckoo is available in paperback and Kindle (exclusive to Amazon).
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