“I . . . am the monster”
This is probably one of the most profound statements in literary history to date. Today, there are hundreds of books, films and television shows which address man’s incapacity to negotiate his own darkness. In many variations of the tale, we see the darkness within projected outward, cast onto another real or imagined character. Stephen King’s Secret Window, even the latest season of Dexter re-acquaints us with this age-old phenomenon, but never have they explored it with the depth and finesse author Jon Stone did in the chilling The Monster at the End of this Book.
The tale begins with the seemingly lovable Grover, whose ambivalence has yet to be revealed. He fears the monster, an entity which he believes he shares no association with. His dissociation from his own darkness becomes apparent to the reader on the first page when Grover Monster ironically proclaims, “I am so scared of monsters” (Stone).
On subsequent pages, Grover’s fear grows. But what does he truly fear? Does he fear the monster at the end of the book, or the fact that, upon reaching the end of the book, we will see him for who he truly is? If we align ourselves with the latter of these two possibilities, then the futility of his attempt to hinder our progress is augmented by the fact that even the casual observer can see Grover for what he truly is: a monster. On the other hand, if we believe Grover genuinely fears the monster at the end of the book, the text becomes a testament to identities which have become so fragmented that an individual interprets different facets of the self as separate individuals. The various mechanisms Grover constructs throughout the book follow in the vein of the former of these two possibilities, for it is the industrial era which catalyzed such fragmentation initially, and it is Grover’s attempt to reconstruct the industrial mechanism, and his inability to adapt to the requirements of industry, which allow us to finish the text.
Over the next few pages, Grover treats the text as a serial killer might treat its victim, binding the book with rope, smothering the book with brick, and building a shack–likely in some remote location–in which he can hide the book away from the public eye. But all of his attempts to slow our progress prove only testament to his inability to adapt to the requirements of the harsh society whose growth is grounded in industry. Even the infantile readers can wretch victory from Grover’s grasp simply by turning the pages. By turning the pages we leave him no choice but to identify himself with the only thing he can inherently identify himself as: the monster.
Grover’s attempts to stop the reader from moving forward are reminiscent of the behaviors we all exhibit when trying to hide our darkest impulses. We try to box ourselves off from others, or “put up a wall.” These very counterintuitive impulses are often what give us away. It is the hiding that reveals us.
While this text could be said to be a grim portrayal of our own fears and impulses, it ends on a positive note. Grover learns to embrace the monster within, and realizes that it is a benign force once refutation of its existence comes to an end, showing us that we all must accept the darkness inside, for repression can only result in physiological complications and self-inflicted damage that far outweighs what we might perceive our inner demons to be capable of. The final message left to readers is best encapsulated by Grover’s closing statement, “I told you and told you there was nothing to be afraid of.” (Stone).
I highly recommend this literary masterpiece. It has something for the child and the scholar within, a rare feat by today’s standards.