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Tucson Weekly Mighty Anthropomorphin'

A fascination bordering on love for the black widow spider?

By Gregory McNamee

MAY 26, 1998: 

The Red Hourglass: Lives of the Predators,
by Gordon Grice (Delacorte Press). Cloth, $18.95.

GORDON GRICE, A naturalist whose "Black Widow" was anthologized in Best American Essays 1996, is a longtime resident of rural western Oklahoma, where, as in southern Arizona, creatures like spiders, coyotes, and rattlesnakes abound.

He gives all of them respectful due in this collection of natural history essays. For the black widow spider he professes a fascination bordering on love, although he recognizes their danger to unwary humans; for the brown recluse, a more dangerous creature still, he exhibits a healthy respect; for all the creatures who fall under his survey, he has many sympathies. Grice is not afraid to commit the naturalist's no-no of anthropomorphism--in his view caterpillars are stupid, wolves intelligent, tarantulas sneaky. Neither does he shy from making sweeping judgments about the human--and animal--condition, as when, without venturing into the murky realm of sociobiology, he likens people to the hunting creatures of whom he's so clearly fond. "We're not pure predators like the mantid, but we have the equipment to be," he writes. We also, he continues in a later essay, have a feral and fearsome capacity "to murder, to become demonic," much more so than any other creature. A viewing of the evening news bears him out.

Grice writes with ironic humor, especially when his investigations take turns that are of questionable taste. Pigs eat just about anything, he writes, including the runts of their litters. Most humans are more selective, but as a species we do eat 88 million pigs each year, for which quantities we employ specialists who ensure that boars and sows mate more effectively than nature intended--a tale not for the easily offended, and which Grice clearly delights in relating.

This book is for readers who like their pets on the hazardous side--and those readers are in for a treat.


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