Fauna, Reviewed in NOW Magazine
By SUSAN G. COLE
Alissa York likes to go deep inside very specific and unusual environments. Her Giller-shortlisted Effigy stepped into a polygamous Mormon household and inside the heads of all four wives.
NOW RATING: NNNN
Fauna’s unofficial animal rescuers search T.O.’s streets and dales for wounded creatures they can heal, or dead ones they can bury. They converge on the Don Valley auto parts lot operated by Guy, who’s made room for a cemetery and helps tend the animals.
When federal wildlife officer Edal happens to see Lily and her dog Billie carrying dead birds, she follows them to Guy’s haunt. There, she meets Stephen, whose heart almost failed him while on an army tour in Afghanistan. Kate, a veterinarian’s technician, also finds her way to Guy’s underworld, where he feeds and fuels the souls of devoted animal lovers.
But Fauna is the title of the book, and it’s almost as much about the animals as it is about the humans. As in Effigy, York has done a ton of research, this time on animal habits and habitats. The prose is pristine and evocative, conveying every sensation experienced by the rescuers.
Tension mounts when Stephen learns via the internet that a badly abused boy wants to destroy the valley’s creatures.
York has a gift for empathy. Every one of her characters has a believable backstory that makes his or her actions credible. If there’s a small problem with the story, it’s that, with the exception of Guy, all of the animal lovers are so deeply wounded. As if, in order to be aware of other living things, to care at all about them, you have to be damaged yourself.
But that’s a tiny misgiving about a tender and beautiful novel.