Eight stories from a Canadian writer focus on family bonds and wounds

animal person

by Alexander MacLeod; Farrar, Straus and Giroux (243 pages, $27)

“Lagomorph,” the first of eight novellas in Alexander MacLeod’s “Animal Person” collection, begins: “Some nights when the rabbit and I are both on the floor playing tug of war with his toy carrot , it will suddenly freeze in one position.” Now in the life of David, the narrator, his children have grown up and his wife has taken a job in Toronto, leaving him alone with Gunther, the rabbit.

When Gunther freezes, “he will look at me and there will be a change, his quick gaze stabilizing into a hard gaze.” In that moment, David thinks the aging rabbit comes to terms with the loss of his wife and everything that’s happened in the house for 15 years.

“Lagomorph” and the final story, “The Closing Date”, describe the diminishing affection in two marriages, in the latter case in part due to an event at a Halifax motel. Other touching stories concern the strengthening of family and human ties.

In “Everything Underneath”, two sisters, scuba divers, learn how important they are to each other after an incident on a beach in Nova Scotia.

In “Once Removed”, a great-aunt watches her parent detach a chandelier from the ceiling of a Montreal skyscraper. During several radiant moments as his girlfriend and their baby look on, the four add a memory to the family history. MacLeod writes of the chandelier, now moved, “The light continued to shatter as it filtered through the [crystal] splinters, and he fell on the child and the young mother and the old woman, alone and together … surrounded by hoarded riches.”

In “What exactly do you think you’re looking at?” a traveler steals luggage from airport carousels. After searching the luggage, he returns it with an apology note and some money. The most prized suitcase will have items shared by two people. “I would like to find that,” the narrator confesses, “a single suitcase with two lives already intertwined, completely her own, completely her own.”

Something is missing in the lives of these characters until, like the rabbit and his caretaker, they experience a breakthrough, “one single thought – lively, urgent and distinct…then it passes and the rest is all the rest .” The main thing for MacLeod’s characters is to connect, if only for a moment.

In the moving “The Entertainer” (where I paused during the reading to collect my emotions), a young pianist ends his recital with the help of an unlikely assistant.

Alexander MacLeod’s debut collection, ‘Light Lifting’, was shortlisted for the Giller and Commonwealth Book Prizes and was a national bestseller in Canada.

Now the great stories in “Animal Person”. Although not all of them enlighten the dark world, many of them do.

–Anthony Bukoski

Tribune of the Stars

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