302 Pages; Print, $16.00
Steven Hendricks’s novel, Little is Left to Tell, is populated by many characters, but one of the central characters is Mr. Fin, an elderly man who lives a lonely life and is still struggling to cope with the loss of his son, David. His loss illustrates the recurring themes that connect most of the characters in this novel: the fractured relationships among family members and the heartbreaking attempts to maintain or repair those connections, as well as the overwhelming effects that these personal losses have on the characters who are estranged from each other.
Many of the characters in Hendricks’s story are actually anthropomorphized animals, such as Mrs. Rabbit and her many children, referred to as bunnies, including the second eldest child, who names herself Yasha. In the aftermath of a zeppelin that has destroyed their village, including their home and most of the other “people” they know, Mrs. Rabbit is distracted (and at times, obsessed) by the death of her eldest son and her attempt to hold onto his corpse until she can find a safe place to bury him. She becomes consumed with her loss, and her feverish and stubborn hold on her son illustrates her unwillingness to accept the reality of his death. She treats her son’s dead body with more love, care, and attention than she does her other children, who are more or less left to fend for themselves. The bunnies are later left to the dubious care of Virginia Wolf, a former predator and child murderer, as well as a former male wolf, transformed into a successful female author (though still a wolf). Yasha is the most level-headed character in her family. Her attempts to survive and connect with other people, such as the family of bears that the rabbits encounter, illustrate another theme in this novel: the struggle to survive despite all odds, including the crushing sense of alienation.
Hendricks does an excellent job providing the animals with “human” traits and features, such as Virginia Wolf’s ability to write, the rabbit Hart Crane’s ability to save and protect the lost rabbits, and the youngest bear’s love of books. The youngest bear’s characterization as the essential bookworm brings the reader back to Mr. Fin. That is, the bear clings to his collection of books as a lifeline. By a similar token, Mr. Fin finds solace in his own books, particularly in his memory of telling the story of Hart Crane and the lost rabbits to his son David when the latter was a child, before the two became estranged from each other.
There are so many characters in this book that, at times, it is hard to keep track of them, especially because the narrative frequently switches from the perspective of one character to the next. Hendricks’s description of Mr. Fin’s inability (though to some extent, also his unwillingness) to connect with other people aside from his son evokes [End Page 24] sympathy for his situation. But then the narrative immediately switches to the perspectives of other characters, such as an ant queen who exists inside the youngest bear and later the corpse of Yasha’s brother. Hendricks even incorporates people from other stories into the novel, such as Santiago (from Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea ), Don Quixote, Odysseus, Orpheus, and Eurydice, though he revises their stories (as well as their fates) in order to connect them to his main characters and his themes. The frequent switch in characters’ perspectives is thus at times distracting and confusing.
At one point in the novel, Mr. Fin finds what he believes is the body of his long-lost son David, washed up ashore. He brings the body into his house and manages to conceal its existence from his worried friends, Vivian and Sam. He then rereads David’s favorite book to him and even feeds pages of the book to his son in the belief that the book itself will save him. Mr. Fin’s belief in the...