I love museums. As a child my favorite thing in the whole world was a trip to the Buffalo Museum of Science, especially the huge hall where the dinosaur skeletons towered over us. Before wanting to be an artist or writer, I wanted to be a paleontologist. I still nerd out over science, and seeing as how NYC is just a short train ride away, I will be getting myself to the Museum of Natural History ASAP. I’ve already threatened my boyfriend with this trip.

Douglas Preston worked at said museum for a number of years, so there is a very authentic feel to Relic. That, and the mythology behind Mbwun, was the most enjoyable aspect of a book peopled with stock characters (the sleazy journalist, the hard-edged NYPD cop, the frazzled grad student–ok, that one is true) who tend to talk a lot. A LOT. Vast amounts of pages go by in which literally nothing happens due to often needless exposition. Because Preston worked at the Museum for a number of years, I have no doubt that all of the random information about its inner workings is fascinating to him. For the average reader, not so much. Relic becomes so bogged down in ultimately meaningless details that halfway through the book, the actual plot has all but ground to a halt.

That’s not to say that Relic isn’t well-written; despite some head-hopping, it’s certainly better than some other books I’ve read this term. But there is one word, repeated over and over as a description for Mbwun’s odor, that managed to drive me nearly to insanity. That word is “goatish.” I grew up in a rural area, but my experience with goats is limited to the occasional children’s petting zoo. I don’t have the first damned clue as to what a goat smells like. So this descriptor, which was apparently of great importance to Preston and Child given their repeated use of it, does not in fact indicate, to me at least, what Mbwun smells like.

I would have liked the revelation that Whittlesey was Mbwun to have occurred in the actual story, rather than through a tacked-on, expository epilogue that inexplicably casts Kawakita as some kind of mad scientist. As I read the final pages I could almost envision him rubbing his hands together and cackling in his dark, makeshift lab. Very cheesy, but characterization was not one of the book’s strong points. There was a much more interesting story buried within these pages; I feel that Preston and Child got lost in things that didn’t matter and ended up telling the wrong one.

This is my final blog for SHU’s Readings in Genre classes, but fear not, readers–I am nothing if not opinionated, so rest assured that I’ll be back soon!

Published by Jennifer Loring

Jennifer Loring’s short fiction has appeared in the anthologies Tales from the Lake vols. 1 and 4, Nightscript IV, Dim Shores Presents Volume 2, and the Bram Stoker Award-nominated Not All Monsters and Arterial Bloom, among many others. She holds an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction with a concentration in horror fiction and is currently working toward a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies - Humanities & Culture, focusing on queer possibility in fairy tales. Jenn lives in Philadelphia, PA, where she and her husband are owned by a turtle and two basset hounds.

5 thoughts on “Relic

  1. Oh Jenn… I gotta smile. I grew up in the country, and guess what we primarily raised. Yep. GOATS. I had to take goat's milk in my thermos to school for lunch (and all my friends moved away…) and I helped deliver baby goats and had to dodge the billy goats to get to the pear tree in summer. It had huge horns and would butt the hell out of us if we got caught (The goat, not the pear tree). So yeah…I am SOOOO familiar with goatish it's scary. But all the description of the smell did was make me never wanna taste lukewarm goatmilk (or smell it) again, and gave me an odd hankering for pears. Go figure. :)I loved that you included that Douglas Preston worked at the museum because I thought he had a realistic quality to the prose but didn't get the chance to look it up. Nice! :)~Cin


  2. I enjoyed the mythology, too. There was a comment thrown in about the tribe having to eat their children as part of the deal with the devil, and I was captivated. I also liked the setting even though museums aren't really high on my interest level–when I was little I wanted to be a magician!As for the word "goatish," I can see what your saying because I didn't think of the smell relating to the animal. My experience with goats is getting rammed by one in first grade at a petting zoo. So, I imagined something I was more familiar with: goat cheese. Goat cheese has a specific animal taste that I would say is goatish. I'm not positive this is what was meant by this descriptions, though. However, that was what I pictured.


  3. Me too! I used to day dream about digging up old bones and relics all the time. Now I just write about them, and make them up. :)Not sure about "goatish" either, and we had three goats at one point. One of them was the best dog my father ever had. They never smelled all that distinctive to me…


  4. Like Cyn, I didn't know Preston worked in a museum. This explains why so much of that portion of the novel was realistic and accurate. I'm also with you on "goatish." I grew up in suburbia, there aren't very many goats there. I have no idea what a goat smells like. In fact, during my childhood, my grandfather had me convinced that goats had two legs that were shorter than the other two. He explained this was so they had better balance while standing on inclined surfaces like hills and mountains. 🙂 When I moved to rural Bedford, Pa., this knowledge became a difficulty when I covered the county fair. I asked the judge during the lamb competition what kind of animal they were. I didn't realize lambs were baby sheep. I know now, and the story is always good for a laugh.


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