Friday, June 22, 2018

The Red Hourglass: the Lives of the Predators by Gordon Grice (1998)

I think one could definitely call Gordon Grice an arachnologist; I certainly think he is an arachnophile.  He writes with much love and reverence for about some of the most feared and loathed spiders in the world.  He saves the most tender love for black widows; tarantulas also get some near hagiography here.  His essay about brown recluses is the shortest, and it's also the most creepy - scientists don't really understand how brown recluse venom works, but they know it's excruciatingly painful and often deadly.  Grice writes about other predators too - rattlesnakes, pigs and dogs.  But I feel that it's spiders with which he is most enamored.    Whatever creepy crawly carnivore about which he is writing, he still has a beautiful style and language, especially when you consider his subject matter.  Such as here:  "There were pill bugs crawling the floor along the walls (drained shells of pill bugs hung in the lower reaches of the widow web like dirty tassels on a shawl.)"  His desciptive language immediately evokes the sight of what that bit of monstrous-ness must have looked like.  The entire book reads this way; who would think such beautiful language could describe some of nature's most feared creatures.  

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Writing moving, elegant prose about any subject is difficult enough, but Gordon Grice writes elegant, moving prose about some of nature's most feared creatures. In three essays, he writes reverently and lovingly about black widows, tarantulas, and brown recluse spiders - the triumvirate of nightmares for most of us, feared and loathed. Three other essays - about rattlesnakes, pigs and dogs - round out nature's house of horrors. The essay about rattlesnakes is the best among the other three (fascinating and strange creatures). But it's when he's writing about spiders that his evocative language and adoration truly come to life. Grice is obviously an arachnophile and an amateur (I guess) arachnologist who has succeeded in making spiders if not more likable (they really are still scary) then at least a little bit more understood (as much as he's able; we STILL don't know a whole lot about how spider venom even works). This book certainly isn't for extreme arachnophobes; but I recommend it if you like reading essays about Mother Nature and all her wonders. 

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