Brooke Bolander’s THE ONLY HARMLESS GREAT THING is not a book you can read in fits and starts. Instead, set aside a bit of time to read it from cover to cover. Immerse yourself completely in the story of Regan, a young woman dying from radiation poisoning, and Topsy, the elephant Regan is assigned to train to do the job that is killing her. Interspersed with their tale are glimpses of the future in the form of Kat, a scientist who has developed a warning system for a nuclear waste dump and is now tasked with selling the idea to the ones who will carry it out: elephants. But that’s not all … there’s also a fable about the strength and wisdom of the elephant, there are poems and songs, and there are news stories. All of this in less than 100 pages!
Bolander’s novella is both brutal and gorgeous. Every sentence has purpose, and even the horrific episodes are beautifully written. The females–both human and elephant–are strong and compelling characters. This is a book that will have more meaning with subsequent readings. In fact, I recommend finishing the book, pausing to reflect, and then starting over again. Repeat as necessary.