NOMINEE 2011 – Toronto Book Awards
When Edal Jones wakes to the sound of a mouse on the hardwood floor by her bed, she doesn’t quite know why she says softly, “Hello.” But then, a lot of things have stopped making sense for Edal. As a federal wildlife officer at Pearson International Airport she’s seen everything from goliath bird-eating tarantulas crammed in a briefcase to a California condor “folded up like a sports coat.” So why has the sight of juvenile star tortoises crushed and broken in a grandmother’s luggage suddenly made it impossible for her to go on?
That same morning, riding her bike in the empty downtown core, Edal spots a young homeless girl rescuing birds that have knocked themselves out against the glassy office towers. Edal tracks Lily through the city to Howell Auto Wreckers in Toronto’s east end and discovers a new world where the links between people and animals can heal rather than hurt.
Handsome wrecking-yard owner Guy Howell employs Stephen, a young soldier on medical release whose duties include veterinary as well as mechanical tasks. Guy is rehabilitating a weakened red-tailed hawk, while Stephen raises a litter of orphaned raccoons, and Lily comes and goes with her birds and her constant companion, a massive black dog named Billy. All the characters in Fauna are animal lovers in search of something that human cruelty has denied them. As the narrative develops, we learn more about each of them, until they begin to feel like our intimate friends. The circle expands to include a young veterinary technician mourning her lover’s death, then expands again with dramatic consequences for all concerned when a disturbed young man starts taking out his anger and sorrow on the coyotes that live in the Don Valley.
Gently, meditatively, this unique novel delivers a profoundly immersive experience. A new kind of urban writing, Fauna encourages us to look again at the margins and undercurrents of the cities we inhabit, and consider how we treat the other beings who call those spaces home. What’s more, the persuasive beauty of York’s writing, the tenderness of her approach to her characters, and the connections she draws between them invite us to look inward and re-evaluate both the human and the animal within.
Alissa York’s fiction has won the Journey Prize and the Bronwen Wallace Award, and has been published in Canada, the U.S., France, Holland and Italy. Her most recent novel, Effigy, was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. York has lived all over Canada and now makes her home in Toronto with her husband, artist Clive Holden.
“Rich and strange and deeply satisfying. Whether she’s adopting the voice of a homeless teen, a yuppy vet, or a famished coyote, York writes with a spare, unsentimental fluency that connects strangers, enemies, species. Fauna reminds us of the life that swoops and slithers and lopes and pounces all around us, even in the most urban of worlds; a wild life we share and ignore at our peril.” —Annabel Lyon, author of The Golden Mean
“Fauna is the sort of rare novel that can change the way you see your world. Its cast of misfits and dreamers is united by their visceral connection to the forgotten animals surviving in the green patches of our big cities. This book is beautiful, unusual and memorable. And Alissa York is a daring and original talent.” —Jim Lynch, author of Border Songs
“Layered with astonishing detail, with every location vividly evoked and every action a visceral experience.”
— The Globe and Mail
“One of the novel’s strengths is the way York turns her gaze from the human world to the world of Toronto’s skunks, coyotes, raccoons and squirrels. . . . Even as she brings animals to life with her writing, she is clear about the terrible toll taken by everything from cars, to skyscraper windows, to live electrical wires.”
— Winnipeg Free Press
“Lyrical. . . . Fauna is well crafted, morally serious and even noble in its sensitivity.”
— Toronto Star
“An extraordinary novel. . . . daring and exceptional.”
— Quill & Quire (starred review)
“A tender and beautiful novel.”
— NOW (Toronto)