Red Deer author Kimmy Beach once spent seven hours waiting in the hot sun for a three-storey-high puppet to “walk” by.
“It was magnificent,” she recalled — seeing that sky-high marionette, propelled by an army of puppeteers, pass down a crowded avenue in Liverpool, England, in 2014. She considered this “the most incredible piece of street theatre I’d ever seen… It changed my life. I felt outside of myself.”
Beach’s fervid imagination was previously stirred by Internet videos she had seen of enormous street puppets. She began writing a metaphoric tale about one of these marionettes in 2012, and many revisions later, her 147-page book, Nuala: A Fable, has been published by the University of Alberta Press.
The strange story takes place in a dystopian world similar to Earth, only with a region rife with 100-foot, lifeless puppets. One of these, a teenage girl figure named Nuala, is brought into being and proves surprisingly capable of thinking thoughts and feeling emotions that are quite apart from those of her head puppeteer, a diminutive human she calls Teacher-Servant.
Beach starts by describing caring moments between the teacher and his giant student (father and enormous daughter?), but their relations soon descend into a power struggle. The puppeteer panics when he realizes he can’t stop his creature from thinking for herself and making her own decisions, said the author.
While Nuala is a highly original tale, many of its themes — of alienation, the search for understanding and companionship, and struggle for independence — are universal and are explored in such classics as Pinocchio, Frankenstein, Pygmalion — or, as Beach suggested, the 1984 film Terminator.
Beach admitted she was thinking of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein when she wrote of Nuala’s desire to connect with someone else like herself. But the story is further complicated by jealousy when a female puppeteer triangulates relations between Nuala and Teacher-Servant.
“Why is it we are pulled towards what we know will destroy us?” questioned Beach, who considered dysfunctional human interactions while writing about a puppet. But of the three emotionally involved individuals in this fable, she believes only Nuala realizes these relationships cannot provide her with everything she needs.
The local author has written six previous books, including an extrapolation on the James Bond story in The Last Temptation of Bond. Beach is glad to confound reader expectations “and prove I’m not a one-trick pony by doing something that’s completely different than anything I’ve ever written before.”
“I have no idea how people will respond” to Nuala, she added, but she hopes to have provided a thought-provoking tale. Beach will read from her new book at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 24, at Sunworks in Red Deer.