Tuesday, October 12, 2010

That Indomitable Duck

As I read Charles G. Finney’s “That Indomitable Duck,” two things immediately came to mind.

First were the stories of fellow Idahoan Patrick F. McManus, or more specifically the stories involving his dog Strange, who more or less adopted Pat’s family and used their farm as a base of operations for his disgusting and lecherous activities, ranging from rolling on fresh roadkill to molesting any farm dog or chicken that came within his disparate territory.

The other is the tale of Radar O’Reilley’s goat Randy who, as Charles Emerson Winchester the Third read with disgust in a letter from Radar’s mother, once “tried to kiss a turkey.”

Finney, in a mix of high-falutin’ language and country boy patois, spins a tale of a rather randy duck who is brought home as a pet by three boys whose mother is concerned they know a bit too much about the sex lives of frogs. The duck, never too friendly with the boys, apt to hiss and scream at them and beat them with its wings when they got too close, escapes his woodshed prison and goes on to wreak sexual havoc among the neighborhoods’ chickens and at least one fluffy white pet rabbit. Behold:

Lulu [the rabbit] doubled and redoubled with astonishing agility, but the great white bird was as relentless as death is supposed to be. It never ceased pursuit for a second; finally it made a quick turn on its awkward webbed feet, got hold of Lulu by one large pink ear and, at the same time, folded her under its immense wing.

Lulu gave a shrill squeak; there followed a scene which gave Mrs. Multin nightmares for a long while afterward. It was atrocious and outrageous and unbelievable. It was fantastic and downright insane. It was incredible that such a thing could happen on a sunny summer morning in the Multins’ fenced side yard. And the most hideous thing about it all was that Lulu seemed to enjoy it. It was as if Lulu were, indeed, another Leda.

Louis Untermeyer and his editors even thoughtfully provide an illustration. G-rated, of course.

I’m not sure what to think. Not that the content of the story bothers me – it’s rather innocuous – but as a writer myself, the stark contrast between Finney’s prose and the twang of his characters is a bit jarring.

The boys went to market, but went reluctantly. “Doggone,” they kept wondering to each other. “whur did mamma ever get the idear we wanted any old fool chickens?”

The market, a hollow square with pens all around, aroused their interest slightly. Its acrid poultry smell piqued their nostrils, and the cries of the fowls piqued their ears. They wandered round and round, talking and looking.

Just at the end of their tour of inspection, they saw the Muscovy drake. After seeing him that once, they looked at nothing else.

A damned ugly bird in a mix of odd prose. But I should talk; I’m all high falutin’ when I write.

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