“Frankenstein’s Daughter” by Maureen McHugh: A Digital Domains Review

Copyright © 2010 by Ellen Datlow. Cover design by Stephen H. Segal.

“Frankenstein’s Daughter” is a short story by award-winning author Maureen McHugh that was published on SCIFICTION on April 2, 2003.

Good to get that out of the way.  Now, onto the review!

The Story: Trying To Fix The Past (Or Just Get Over It)

Our story is given two protagonists: Robert, a seventeen-year-old boy who’s resentful of his developmentally disabled half-sister Cara, and Jenna, Cara’s mother and caretaker.  Cara is an unusual child in that she is a clone of Jenna’s original daughter, Kelsey, who died some time ago.  However, being one of the first clones ever created, Cara is a stocky six-year-old who’s asthmatic, incontinent, and the subject of much awe and ridicule by the rest of society.  Robert mostly uses her to distract security guards and cashiers when he goes shoplifting, justifying it as a way to make himself feel cool and as a means of acting out against the bizarre arrangements that Jenna and his father Allan have forced upon him.

The Cast: Everyone Living Under Expectations

Robert is our first protagonist, being your typical resentful teenager.  He’s had to live in the shadow of Cara, who is herself a tragic figure, being an attempt to resurrect Jenna’s little girl named Kelsey.  Jenna is our second protagonist, the poor mother who has to handle both Robert and Cara, especially when the latter requires far more attention and care, while her former husband Allan is off with his girlfriend Joyce, seemingly disconnected from the reality that both Jenna and Robert have to suffer through.

The Theme: The Price We Pay For What We Create

This story is a commentary on the advancement of science and technology on society.  Through Cara’s existence, Jenna has a daughter once again, but this relationship also brings an element of alienation–not only in alienating Robert from his own family, but in alienating Jenna from the greater society, which still has a strong traditionalist strain that frowns upon the science of cloning.

It is also–beyond its own title–an homage to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, another tale about the dangers of unchecked ambition and unethical science.  Jenna has come to admit that she was not in the best frame of mind when she made the decision to have her deceased daughter cloned, much like how Dr. Victor Frankenstein came to realize how twisted his own creation was–at which point it became “the Monster.”  And while we never see the world from Cara’s point of view, we get something like the Monster in the form of Robert, who found no parental affection and so chooses to lash out in retaliation for its abandonment.

Final Verdict: Alienation Without Angst, Sorrow Without Shame

I have to admit that this story does an excellent job in not going overboard with its themes or characters.  While the point of McHugh’s writing is obvious, it isn’t just a thinly-veiled attack on certain philosophies or social behaviors.  It’s a genuine story that captures the sullen attitudes of an adolescent and the quiet desperation of a burdened mother, all while inserting the slightest vein of science fiction to drive home the drama.

Bibliography: McHugh, Maureen F.  “Frankenstein’s Daughter.”  Digital Domains: A Decade of Science Fiction & Fantasy.  Edited by Ellen Datlow.  Prime Books, 2010.

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