Of Mice and Men
by James R. Coggins
Abbotsford writer Jerry Raaf’s new novel is all about mice. The Mice in Sophie’s Mattress— Giuseppe, Patrizio, Angelo, and dozens of others—are living a happy existence in an old mattress in an old farmhouse. The house is safe and warm, and there is an abundance of food. All goes well until the farmer’s wife, Sophie Brunzhoffa, decides to buy a new mattress. The old mattress, with its resident rodents, is unceremoniously dumped at the back end of the farm, where life is much more difficult, uncomfortable, and dangerous.
This novel is about mice (interspersed with some interesting insights into the lives of the humans who own the farm), but it is no more a children’s story than George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
It can perhaps be seen as an elaboration of the well-known Robbie Burns poem that “the best-laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley.” By telling a story about mice, Raaf shows that people, like mice, are often ambushed by the bad things (and the good things) that happen to them as a result of powerful forces and movements from the larger world outside their peaceful little communities. These powerful forces are not only beyond their control but also beyond their understanding. The mice in Sophie’s mattress have no idea why disaster has befallen them. They only know that good times do not last forever and bad times come. Unable to control what happens, they can only control their own reactions to what happens, and they learn to face the vicissitudes of life with faithfulness, resilience, and self-sacrificing love.
Raaf is a good storyteller and an insightful observer of human nature. He draws the reader into the miniature world of mice and tells a story full of mystery, pain, folly and wisdom, failure and perseverance. He offers no easy answers, only an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of joy and suffering and the deep questions of life.
The Mice in Sophie’s Mattress was published by Mill Lake Books, a book publishing imprint based in Abbotsford.
James R. Coggins (www.coggins.ca) is a writer, editor, and historian based in Abbotsford.