Among the Beautiful Beasts
Like many Floridians, I have long been a fan of Marjory Stoneman Douglas. I was fortunate enough to review a collection of her short stories in the 1990s and to write a feature article celebrating the centennial of this indefatigable fighter for the environment and author of the classic book on the Florida Everglades, River of Grass. Not only was she an ardent environmentalist, she also participated in the suffrage movement and the Civil Rights struggles. Today, however, people may only associate her name with the high school where a tragic shooting occurred. They should read this book.
In spite of her many accolades, even Douglas’s fans most likely know little of her early years. By casting the story as a novel rather than a biography, Lori McMullen is able to immerse us in the writer’s imagination as she experiences a troubled childhood with a mentally ill mother, a disastrous marriage to a criminal, and a heartbreaking love affair with a man driven mad by World War I. When she winds up in Florida where she will make her mark as a journalist, the reader observes how these events shape the powerful advocate she will become.
Among the Beautiful Beasts is a stunning achievement. At times the book is as suspenseful as the best page-turner, and yet the sheer beauty of the prose invites readers to linger on every page. McMullen has captured the spirit of this profoundly important naturalist and activist in language that soars like the white ibis that flies “brazenly across the sky” in the Everglades. She Writes Press deserves credit for facilitating the publication of books of this caliber.