Mermaids don’t exist, but they could.
A New Jersey author and illustrator is celebrating the release of his new novel, a fantastic, forgotten medical journal of a deranged, Victorian-era surgeon with strange ambitions, at the powerHouse Arena bookstore in DUMBO, where the writer will gladly answer questions — such as how best to sew extra nipples on a live badger and stuff like that.
“The character, he’s kind of a scientist who went a little mad scientist-y,” said E.B. Hudspeth, author of “The Resurrectionist: The Lost Works of Dr. Spencer Black.”
“At one point he puts wings on a beagle, and calls it, ‘Darwin’s Beagle.’ ”
On the surface, Dr. Spencer Black’s story may sound like the 2010 shock-horror film “The Human Centipede” with a little of Rob Zombie’s “House of a 1000 Corpses” mixed in for good measure — and it is — but within the paper tomb’s artificially weathered pages, there exists a wealth of highly imaginative and anatomically feasible illustrations of fantastic creatures that never existed.
The strength of the art, the author contends, is compelling enough, considering all the bizarre critters Mother Nature has cooked up over the aeons.
“What I found really interesting doing these drawings is, you break it down enough, you say, ‘Why not?’ ” said Hudspeth. “Why couldn’t a mermaid have adapted in its own special ways; there are so many strange mutations in nature.”
The sketches may have come from Hudspeth’s pen, but they’re meant to be the work of the author’s tragic protagonist, Dr. Black.
The good doctor begins, in the book, as a stand-up, well-respected member of the established scientific, medical, and naturalist societies of the early 20th century, until he develops a fascination for the macabre when he discovers a half-man, half-goat hybrid in a pickle jar at a carnival freak show.
Instead of comprehending the man-goat as a trick of taxidermy, Dr. Black indulges his imagination and regards the creature as a product of the natural world. And so begins his adventure into strange anatomy, which devolves into a debased obsession. The good doctor vivisects creatures in his attempts to create what Nietzsche would have called, the Übermensch — albeit, in a more literal than philosophical way.
“He’s not a bad guy,” said Hudspeth. “He’s trying to rediscover our ancestral past. He feels that human beings, by point of contrast, are insignificant and weak, and could be so much more. We could have the ability to fly and live much longer.”
Things come to a head when Dr. Black — who naively never considers moral implications of his pet project — starts proudly displaying his sewn-together creatures in public, much to the outrage of everyone from scientists to clergy.
“He’s ostracized at first by the medical community for the ridiculousness of his claims, and the ostracization increases to the point where the religious people get involved,” said Hudspeth. “They don’t like him tampering with god’s creations.”
But the continuously dense Dr. Black doesn’t understand all the brouhaha. Even if some of his experiments, such as the winged beagle, weren’t great successes, they are to the doctor living, breathing examples of what’s possible.
“It’s not proposed that it was ever able to achieve flight,” said Hudspeth. “He was just happy it hadn’t died yet.”
E.B. Hudspeth’s “The Resurrectionist: The Lost Works of Dr. Spencer Black,” at powerHouse Arena [37 Main St., between Water and Front streets in DUMBO, (718) 666–3049, powerhousearena.com]. June 17, 7 pm, free, rsvp@power