The open secret of tales of scary creatures, of course, is that everybody loves to identify with the monster. Who among us doesn't also feel misshapen and misunderstood? From Frankenstein to Godzilla to the Phantom of the Opera, we can't help rooting for the underdog. David Maine's new novel, Monster, 1959 (St. Martin's), reenvisions the archetypal saga of King Kong, giant of otherness. Maine's monster, known as K, is a woolly hybrid of species ("something to cause Darwin to burn his notebooks and run"), who dwells in unself-conscious dominion over a paradise gone radioactive from nuclear testing. Just as in the Hollywood classic, it's love that soothes and ruins the beast; when Betty (the novel's version of Fay Wray) sings, K's "enormous eyes gaze with an indefinable gentleness." But Maine's monster tale unfolds unexpectedly, against the background of 1950s America"not just its love of movies but its Cold War politics and rampant racism. Maine's achievement is to revisit an American myth with fresh eyes, creating an affecting parable for troubled times.