A Creature Wanting Form



"In these stories, Luke O'Neil tears the heart out of the dying world and makes us give a fuck that it's still beating. ” —Rax King, author of Tacky: Love Letters to the Worst Culture We Have to Offer

"Gorgeous, unsettling, infuriating.” —Kim Kelly, author of Fight Like Hell: The Untold History of American Labor

"Rendered with a lyricism that seems to be in awe of the world even as they describe its greatest pains and profound injustices." —Megan Nolan, author of Acts of Desperation

"A beautiful disaster.” —Dave Wedge, New York Times bestselling author and journalist

"One of the few writers who I'll read for the prose alone. " —Ryan Cooper, editor at The American Prospect and author of How Are You Going to Pay for That?

"I always wanted to know what goes on inside Luke's brain. Then I read this…, and, well, be careful what you wish for.” —Dan Ozzi, author of Sellout: The Major-Label Feeding Frenzy That Swept Punk, Emo, and Hardcore

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About the Book

A Creature Wanting Form is a bleakly funny work of fiction from a journalist widely celebrated for his wry, mordant take on life.

Filtered through the lens of a writer and characters who are horrified by the earth’s looming mortality, and their own, but still compelled to carry on, O’Neil interweaves science fiction, allegory, fables, poetry, and reflections on the deeply grounded indignities of modern life. In these pages, climate catastrophe lurks on the horizon; animals voraciously devour each other; your parents only call to tell you who from home has just died; and you want to go for a swim, but there’s a shark in the pool.

In short, A Creature Wanting Form is a book for anyone trying to survive with a shred of humanity in the bleak alienation of America, 2023.

240 pages • Paperback ISBN 978-1-68219-383-9 • E-book ISBN 978-1-68219-384-6


About the Author

Luke O'Neil author photo

Photo courtesy the author
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Luke O’Neil is the author of the popular political and literary newsletter Welcome to Hell World and the book of the same name. He’s a former writer-at-large for Esquire and longtime contributor to the Boston Globe, The Guardian, and many other newspapers and magazines.

Read an Excerpt

We were sitting in the sulfurous hot spring rubbing the mud they have there on our faces and going like look at me I’m a mud man I’m going to kill your entire family haha and laughing even though it wasn’t that funny. Just to be somewhere else made everything lighter at first. I said the guy at the front desk had told me that there’s a place not far from here where you can dive down between two tectonic plates and you dunked your head under to wash the monster off of you and came back up and said you had to piss real bad. I looked around and said it’s probably fine it already smells weird.

There was some kind of earthquake that was a big thing in the 1700s the guy said and now there’s a hole in the earth and the water that rushed in to fill it is all silvery and there’s one part they call the Cathedral I imagine because if you get down there it probably gets you to start believing in God.

The majesty of creation and so on.

I said the continents drift a little further apart by like one inch every year according to what the guy told me and then I started thinking about how small you are and how very small all of us are and how we’ve been drifting apart too because it’s impossible for humans to think of anything but ourselves. I thought about tectonic plates grinding against one another and it made me think about the pain in my knee which was more real to me than geology.

Are there any sharks down there you asked and I said I don’t know probably. The guy didn’t say anything about sharks one way or the other.

They had shark penis on the menu at the place we went the night before and everyone thought that was pretty funny so you ordered it as a gag but then you had to follow through and eat it because it was honestly very expensive and on top of that you didn’t want to seem too American.

What does it taste like I asked and you said it tastes like shark penis.

It never really occurred to me until then that sharks would have penises although I guess that basically checks out. It’s not like sharks just spontaneously emerge into existence. Not yet anyway.

Then I was thinking about sharks fucking for a minute.

On one of our first dates we went to see a movie at the Kendall Square cinema called Open Water. It’s about a couple who go on a scuba diving vacation somewhere in the Bahamas I think. Somewhere near there. Near enough to there that it doesn’t matter. They go to the ocean anyway. At some point ocean is just ocean.

Due to a miscount by the person leading the scuba expedition the couple emerge from the depths to realize the boat has left them behind. At first they presume that the mistake will be rectified in the way that we all do when something goes wrong. Well this is fucked but certainly order will be restored presently we think.

“Other people go on vacation and spend their days just laying around,” the husband says at one point. “We have a story we’re going to be telling for the rest of our lives,” he goes and indeed they did it’s just that their lives didn’t end up being as long as they had imagined they would be.

A day is so long but a life is very short.

As they float further and further away from the original dive spot they bicker and blame one another and grasp for something different they could have done that would have saved them from this ordeal.

As if logic is a shield against chaos.

Eventually the realization that there is no order to things and that two people can in fact be left behind like this dawns on them.

I guess it’s partly based on a true story about a couple in Australia this happened to although I don’t think that matters for the film or for our purposes here. It’s true either way.

So thirst sets in quickly and the sun burns their faces as they bob on the tide and swarms of jellyfish sting and sharks begin to circle. All that’s left is for the two of them to continue living born along on the waves for as long as they can not knowing which of them is going to die first.

To watch it happen and to describe it makes it sound horrific which it is but it’s also just a sped up version of how life works as a matter of course. There’s no rescue boat coming and the sharks have spotted us. You hope you go before the person you love because you can’t bear to watch it happen to them when there’s nothing you can do.

It made me think just now about how a million Americans have died over the past two years from the sickness. Their loved ones sitting by helplessly watching and waiting for a different kind of drowning to begin.

It’s probably not a spoiler to tell you how the film ends anymore so than it is to spoil how any life ends which is that it ends.

It’s the waiting though.

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