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Natural Selection by Alfred Alcorn

Natural Selection

by Alfred Alcorn

272 pages
A novel of courage, love, betrayal, and death on safari

Paperback $15.95   + $5.95 shipping & handling (USA)
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Category: Fiction:Literary
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About the Book
Inspired by Hemingway’s “The Short Happy Life of Francis McComber,” Natural Selection tells a story of violent death on safari in East Africa. When Nick Mercer, American-born guide for a museum group touring the highlands of the Rift Valley, starts an affair with one of his clients, he lights a fuse that burns inexorably towards tragedy. From the beginning, Nick is smitten by Marlene Rich, wife of Frank Combers, who is wealthy, seemingly collusive in his wife’s infidelities, but dangerously and increasingly unstable.

A graduate student in his late twenties, Nick guides safaris to support his passion for paleoanthropology -- the study of human origins -- and for the digs organized to find fossils of hominid ancestors. It is through Nick that the novel explicates mankind’s beginnings in that part of the world and how our evolution renders us part of nature -- as well something else.

An attractive fashion designer in her late thirties, Marlene is childless and nurses a fervent hope bordering on obsession of having a child of her own. She clings to a last, thin hope provided by a specialist: with the right man at the right time, she might still possibly conceive. Marlene, who is smitten in turn by the safari guide, seduces him without revealing what her motives are.

Frank is an accomplished photographer in his late forties. A vasectomy has not only rendered him sterile, but is of a piece with a self-destructive, life that is sliding into crisis.

Yonah Ganetu is a black Jew in his early sixties, the manager of the safari, and the embodiment of principled righteousness. A pivotal character in the novel, he warns Nick repeatedly not to get involved with the Rich-Combers.

Nick and Marlene’s affair excites and unhinges Frank, who is a sexual omnivore. Impressed by the way the guide “lives on the edge,” he is as taken with Nick as Nick is infatuated with Marlene. But Nick cannot make it an equilateral triangle.

Oblivious to what’s really happening, infatuated, flattered, and finally in love, Nick, unknowingly encourages Marlene in her hopes as he lectures the group about sexual selection, reproductive fitness, and other aspects of Darwinian theory.

At a critical juncture, Nick betrays his friend Yonah. He manipulates Joyce Waddell, the officious, feckless representative from the museum, into keeping Frank -- and therefore Marlene -- on the safari after the photographer has endangered everyone in a close confrontation with elephants.

Nick’s betrayal of his friend sets the stage for the tragic denouement on the final afternoon of the safari as the group stops on the vast floor of Ngorongoro Crater to look at a pride of lions.

Laced throughout with vivid depictions of East Africa’s awesome scenery and unique wildlife, Natural Selection is replete with distinct, memorable characters, each of whom plays a decisive role in the unfolding drama. Through the words and actions of these characters, the novel portrays the human condition in the classic mode of American fiction.

 

 

About the Author
Alfred Alcorn was born in 1941 in Wallesey, England. Orphaned early, he went to live with his grandfather in Ireland. A year later he was adopted by an aunt in America. He grew up on a dairy farm, played football in high school, and received a scholarship to Harvard.

 

 

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