The blurb makes you think this is going to be a comedy, and perhaps for some it is. But it reminded me very much of my first pro theater production, a play with what I thought was a bleak if occasionally funny script, set in a series of airport waiting areas. We performed it to laughs every night but always in the back of my mind lingered the knowledge of the desperation that underpinned the words, and the despair: a bit of a Malaysian Alan Ayckbourn if you will.
Gigantic recaptures that vibe exactly for me, as it follows the hapless Kevin Stubbs, an investigator for the Gigantopithecus Intelligence Team and a man determined to finally make a confirmed sighting of the missing link hominid that he’s convinced lurks in the Sutton woods. Despite his own sheltered, fatherless upbringing, he’s tried so hard to instill his passion for cryptid tracking in his own young son, Kyrylo. After a series of mishaps, he’s sure that getting proof will not only vindicate his passion, but also bring him fame, perhaps fortune, and definitely reconciliation with his now-estranged family. He doesn’t mean to be a weird, neglectful father and husband. But achieving his goal of proving the existence of a South England Bigfoot will show to everyone that he’s not a laughingstock, that he’s merely misunderstood, and that all his strange behavior has had a very scientifically important point.
In this, he’s more or less aided by the other members of GIT, particularly Derek Funnel, who’s just as much a believer as he is, if not more. Kev is a bit annoyed still that he was passed over for the role of Lead Investigator by the retiring Eddie “Gorgo” Gartree, who handed the mantle instead to Maxine Cash, the skeptical science teacher with her own motives for joining the group. Despite still being married to Bohu, the mother of his child, Kev can’t help but be attracted to Max, which will certainly complicate things as they follow up on the strange recording of what seems to be a tall, hairy creature with glowing red eyes, captured on the outskirts of a children’s party before fleeing into the night.
Told in the form of reports from the perspectives of both Kev and Max, bookended by letters from Kev, this is both a funny look at cryptid hunting as well as a deeply sad examination of a damaged man’s psyche. Ashley Stokes masterfully paints a portrait of a yearning young man whose traumas made it all too easy to get caught up in an obsessive hunt that combines all the things he’s ever longed for, even as it comes at the cost of all the things he thought he wanted, a process that further calcifies his personality as he gets older. Kev isn’t the first man to sacrifice his family life and ties to his hobbies, but can he be brought back before he destroys it all? And what will it take to get him to finally do so?
Everyone knows someone like Kev, but this is probably the most unflinching yet kind portrayal of why this phenomenon occurs and the kind of person who’s susceptible to it. It’s a good reminder of the importance of both prioritization and raising your kids as actual people with their own interests and needs. I really loved this book. Anyone with even the slightest interest in cryptids or in human psychology should read it.
Gigantic by Ashley Stokes was published September 2 2021 by Unsung Stories and is available from all good booksellers, including Unsung itself.