by Lee Klein
Sagging Meniscus Press

"I am the Jersey Devil, older than America itself, cursed at birth, damned to atone for an unfortunate reaction to my entrance into the world."

A bastard child—the thirteenth child to be born to Mother Leeds and cursed by Pastor Dade from conception—the Jersey Devil was born during a nor'easter night late in October 1735. Upon birth, Mother Leeds was handed a small boy whose features immediately began to change. On seeing the scaly skin, leathery wings, a tail, claws for hands, hooves for feet, and a snout for a nose, screaming began to rise from the mother and the midwives all around. With the fear and shock instilled in a child just born, as his eyes adjusted to the light, his lungs breathed for the first time on their own, and his bodily functions started adjusting to being outside of the womb, the rise of screams frightened the newborn baby, and his animal instinct took over. Extreme terror grasped the child, and he devoured the mother, the midwives, and all his siblings before opening his gnarled wings and taking flight up the chimney and out into the protection of the woods.

Weeks after the carnage, extensive regret rose within the young Leeds boy. With this, he vowed to make amends for the lives of his family he took in fear that night. Hoping to show his monumental remorse, he first tried to contact his extended family: his uncle and cousins. As fear and panic overtook the small colony, Pastor Dade banished the boy, who the colonists could only see as the Jersey Devil, for one hundred years.

As generations passed, Leeds watched the progression of the world as traffic increased and populations grew. He, however, stayed hidden from sight on his small island with few people. Nonetheless, he hungered for companionship. An unexpected encounter gained Leeds a friend: Larner. With his help, Leeds tracked a young woman in a wedding gown back to her residence on the small island. Being nothing more than a ghost instead of a woman, Larner married Leeds—now coined Mr. Merriweather by his friend—to the ghostly wedding dress. Using this ghost as a cover, Leeds could now go out in public, although it was still trying. With this newfound freedom, Leeds could now experience life. His heart longed for companionship and romance. Although born a monster, he was a more compassionate and genuine man than most people he met. Being near immortal, Leeds saw America’s progression through the centuries, while he achieved his goals of making friends, helping society, and becoming as human as the world would allow him to be.

Lee Klein is an astonishing novelist with an obviously natural ability to weave stories of legend into something readers never expect. Taking the folklore of a grotesque, horrifying monster and from it creating a novel about a loving, sentimental man who wants nothing more in life than redemption from one vile moment at birth, Klein engages his readers' attention from the first line. Klein’s natural ability to intensely describe every scene, every emotion, and every action of his characters leads readers to feel immersed in the novel and makes it impossible to stop reading until the end. Klein has an eloquent, powerful, and motivating writing style. He passionately details every element of his novel, forcing his readers to contemplate all aspects and outcomes as they progress deeper and deeper into an appreciation for his long-suffering character. He takes what is revolting and repugnant and revises it into something exquisite and awe-inspiring. By the novel's end, Klein makes the reader want to focus their lives to be more like the repugnant monster from the beginning of the novel that has changed in order to experience a fulfilled life of humility and repentance instead of the self-absorbed, egotistical, attitudes of many humans in today’s society. Klein shows that regardless of societal birthrights, anyone can transform themselves into what they want to become in life.

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