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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Canadian Book Advent Calendar (Day 24) - "Y" is for York



For this year’s advent calendar, I am recommending Canadian authors/books found on Schatje’s Shelves.  Again, to make things more interesting/challenging, I will use the alphabet, skipping “X” and “Z”.  In total, I propose to focus on 50 Canadian writers, an early nod to Canada's 150th birthday next year.

“Y” is for Alissa York
York is a winner of the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers.

Novels (which I recommend):
Mercy
Effigy (nominated for 2007 Giller Prize)   See my review at http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2015/12/book-advent-calendar-day-23-effigy-by.html.
Fauna




Review of Fauna (3 Stars)
This book has been sitting on my shelf for almost two years since it was released in 2010. I really liked Alissa York’s two previous novels and so bought this one as a hardcover. In those two years I made several attempts to read the book but just couldn’t seem to get into it. This time I was determined to finish it, and I’m glad I persevered although it was slow going at the beginning.

Set in the Don Valley of Toronto, the novel brings together five disparate characters to an autowrecker’s yard which serves as an ad hoc animal sanctuary. Guy is the owner of the business and he welcomes animal strays as well as those of the human variety. These latter include Edal, a federal wildlife officer on stress leave; Stephen, a young veteran recovering from a tour of duty in Afghanistan; Lily, a teenaged homeless runaway; and Kate, a lesbian veterinary technician specializing in canine physiotherapy.

All five characters have suffered the loss of parents either through death or virtual abandonment (because of abuse or mental illness or self-centredness or nonacceptance). Each is an outcast or misfit in some way and so wary of human interaction. All are also somehow involved in rescuing injured animals, and it is this common concern that helps them connect.

All five are interesting people, especially as their backgrounds are gradually revealed. (At the beginning, the number of characters and the alteration among them can cause some confusion; several times I found myself having to look back to connect a particular back story with a particular character.) My problem with them is that, despite their dysfunctional childhoods, they are all such paragons of decency. Guy is almost god-like in his acceptance and welcoming attitude to all, both animals and humans.

The book examines the inevitable collision between animals and humans in an urban setting. An uneasy relationship exists between them, and the author’s suggestion is that humans must find a more balanced way to live with animals. Furthermore, there is a healing power to be found in the natural world: all five characters find some form of redemption in their interaction with the fauna that share the world they inhabit. (The one exception is Darius, the extreme opposite of an animal lover, whose behaviour and fate are lessons in what happens when animals and humans do not co-exist peacefully.)

Because of my affinity for the author, I wanted to love this book, but I can’t honestly say I did. The pace at the beginning is almost glacial, and until the end there is no real action or conflict. There are nice touches like the short passages narrated from the point of view of various animals (fox, skunk, bat, raccoon, squirrel, bat) living in the Don Valley. Also, as mentioned, the five protagonists are rather too good, and in the end the resolutions for all involved are too neat.

At one point, Stephen describes an encounter with a camel spider and he concludes, “The longer he watched it, the lovelier it became” (230). That statement both summarizes the author’s opinion as to how people should approach animals and my opinion of the book as I continued to read. Unfortunately, it takes too long to get caught up in the reading.