Fauna by Alissa York

Fauna by Alissa York

Hardcover | 384 pages | Random House Canada | Fiction
978-0-307-35789-2 (0-307-35789-9)

For more information on Alissa York, or to buy the book: http://www.randomhouse.ca/author/results.pperl?authorid=34375

Fauna on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/erin.moure#!/pages/Fauna-a-novel/366057705078?ref=ts

Author website: http://www.alissayork.com/

I just finished reading Fauna by Alissa York and loved it. Alissa York is one of my favourite fiction writers. Her books, including Effigy and Mercy are full of deeply observed detail in the workings of the world. Interactions between people, their spoken and unspoken conversations are nuanced in ways that invite you to re-read passages so you can let it sink in again, with yet another understanding. Histories of peoples and places figure in her novels and  I like this, I learn things because the books are so rich in information, interpretations and meanings.

Alissa York signing books at Fauna launch.

People reading my blog will know I’m fond of animals and believe in treating them with respect and compassion. Animals figure largely in Fauna as you can tell from the title! The book is set in the Don Valley in Toronto, amongst the ravine-life of skunks, raccoons, fox, coyotes and itinerant humans, all with a relationship to animals of one sort or another. The gathering point is a wrecking yard run by Guy who takes in damaged animals and people alike. As a hub, the wrecking yard is a place where people and animals are cared for and nurtured, essentially un-wrecked.

Cake made by Alissa York for her launch of Fauna.

One of my favourite things that happenes in the book is the anthropomorphisation of some of the animals. York inhabits the voices of, at various times, a raccoon and a skunk. We see the world from their point of view, nights spent scavenging as through the eyes and thoughts of the animals themselves. References to a history of this kind of writing are made through her inclusion of excerpts from Watership Down and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, amongst others. So we think about how central animal stories have been in western fiction writing.

While there are fierce proponents of the idea that animals have an autonomous consciousness and it is therefore immoral and unethical to anthropomorphise them, author Alex Wilson, in his ground-breaking book The Culture of Nature (Between the Lines Publishers, Toronto. 1991), argues that “the act of anthropomorphism can be a radical strategy in a culture like our own, where the frontier between the human and the non-human is well policed, where nature is usually talked about as a field of objects to be observed and managed for the ‘public good’. Yet domination of our natural neighbours has perhaps had its price in alienation and loneliness as a species… the anthropomorphic gesture is a means of making the world beyond the garden wall intelligible to us, and of breaking down the ideology of ‘humanity vs. nature’.” I think I agree with him.

I have to say too I was thrilled to read that one of the characters, Edal, is from Grey County (which is where I live) and that there is a place with two red pines. Two Red Pines is the name of my farm. Okay, I admit it, Alissa is a good friend who has visited many times and is an excellent canoe buddy.

Alissa canoeing on Bells Lake in Grey County, Ontario.


Lorraine Johnson: City Farmer

Author Lorraine Johnson, "City Farmer"

I’ve got to get this new book by Toronto urban-farmer-guerilla-author Lorraine Johnson titled City Farmer. Lorraine is an old friend who has written a ton of great books on sustainabable gardening, care for the environment, native plantings such as The Ontario Naturalized Garden: The Complete Guide to Using Native Plants; Tending the Earth: A Gardener’s Manifesto; The Natural Treasures of Carolinian Canada to name a few.

I met Lorraine for lunch about a year ago and learned from her then that she had a chicken coop in her backyard, which is in the Annex, a very urban part of Toronto. She had four laying hens in the coop and she presented me with four lovely blue, edible eggs. At that time her adventure in backyard chicken raising was relatively new, she had the support of her neighbours and she was agitating city hall to make it legal. In an interview on CBC radio this morning she mentioned that the City of Toronto has still not okayed it for folks to raise chickens in their backyards.

Publishers Greystone Books describe City Farmer:

City Farmer celebrates the new ways that urban dwellers are getting closer to their food. Not only are backyard vegetable plots popping up in places long reserved for lawns, but some renegades are even planting their front yards with food. People in apartments are filling their balconies with pots of tomatoes, beans, and basil, while others are gazing skyward and “greening” their rooftops with food plants. Still others are colonizing public spaces, staking out territory in parks for community gardens and orchards, or convincing school boards to turn asphalt school grounds into “growing” grounds.
Continue reading Lorraine Johnson: City Farmer


South of the Northeast Kingdom by David Mamet

This is one of my all-time favourite books and definitely a writing model for me.  David Mamet has lived in rural Vermont for something like forty years but easily moves between there and the high-powered world of international theatre, New York, broadway, etc. This book is his memoir, of sorts, musing ruminations full of anecdote, insight, humour and rye observation of the people, landscape, animals, weather, and politics of the rural area around him.

I love the black and white photographs he includes (his own), stories of hunting, deer sitings, hanging with local personalities, food, architecture, the bush, self-reliance, all mixed up with philosophy and history. It’s a book you can read many times, and I have.

Published by National Geographic Society in 2002. ISBN 0-7922-6960-8.

Mamet is an American Pulitzer winning author, essayist, playwright, screenwriter, and film director. His plays include American Buffalo and Glengarry Glen Ross; his screenplays include The Untouchables, Wag the Dog, Heist and State and Main.