Short Story Club: “The Puma”

Theodora Goss’s story is here. We start our round-up of comment with Kimberley Lundstrom for The Fix:

“The Puma” by Theodora Goss is an interesting take on H.G. Wells’ classic The Island of Dr. Moreau. In Goss’ version, Edward Prendick’s post-island seclusion in the English countryside is interrupted by Catherine, a distinctly feline woman who calls herself Mrs. Prendick. Edward is struck by her beauty, the scars now erased from the face of the Puma Woman who killed Moraeu. Her presence releases a flood of memories for him: of the island, of Moreau, Montgomery, the Beast Men, of the fire and of subsequent actions of his own he would like to forget. But Catherine has come not only to reminisce — she has a favor she would ask, a favor she knows he cannot refuse.

This story is fascinating and well-wrought, flowing smoothly from a conversation between a civilized lady and gentleman in an English garden to the savagery of men and beasts on the island, and back again. Alive with sensory detail, gripping tension, and social commentary, “The Puma” is an engrossing story in its own right as well as a fitting homage to Wells’ novel.

Lois Tilton at IROSF:

A derivative work tends to assume that readers are familiar with the original. Given this, I find that the Puma repeats rather too much of the events on the island, even if they are not quite the same events as in the book. This is otherwise a rather unsettling evocation of the original tale, suggesting that the consequences of evil continue to propagate long before the original evildoer is gone.


Read ‘The Puma‘ today at Apex Magazine and really liked the delicate diction, very controlled plotting and neatly researched background. Almost like a fable, with lovely touches of inventive horror and mysterious revenge. So Chabon, ‘influence is bliss.’

Michele Lee:

“The Puma” is a continuation of The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells, in which Catherine, the puma-woman, tracks down Edward Prendick with a request. One might even say a demand. Goss’ prose is seamless, capturing a deeper meaning of the original story that hints at our own future.

Maureen’s thoughts:

My feelings towards this story are ambivalent. It’s an interesting story, a thought-provoking story, and I think it does interrogate the original novel in useful ways. Certainly, it’s a rich story in terms of topics for discussion, and that can’t be bad. On that level, I’m glad to have read it, to have been prompted to read The Island of Doctor Moreau, and to start thinking more deeply about it. But my ‘entertainment’ … I suppose one should call it that … has come as much from the greater project as from the story on its own. However one addresses a story there surely needs to be, at some point, an umami moment, a moment of just knowing that it’s right, without having to analyse it, and I’m just not getting that from this story. (Of the five I’ve now read for this exercise, the Chris Adrian comes closest, but I’m having a similar struggle with the contents of the latest Dozois Best of Year.) Is it me as a reader that is at fault, jaded as my palate appears to be, or are writers just not pushing far enough? I don’t know, but it’s frustrating.

Rich Horton listed it as a recommended story in the May Locus, but didn’t offer any analysis. A few supplementary links that may or may not be of interest: Goss on the circumstances of the writing of the story; Mark at Dinosaur Blues suggests that it make’s an interesting counterpoint to Jeffrey Ford’s “After Moreau“, and by way of an editorial for the relevant issue of Apex, Sarah Brandel has an essay on “Beast Men and the Human Animal“, discussing both Goss’s story and Ekaterina Sedia’s “The Mind of a Pig“. So a few hooks for discussion there, perhaps. The floor is open.