Note: I am a writer who loves books. I’m used to championing books with stars or small blurbs on goodreads. Chances are if I’ve really enjoyed a book, I would find a link to a well-written review/great book blogger online and post their analysis instead (as you can see in my links list, there are quite a few I read who keep me reading well). However, I’ve only been able to find a few fifty word snippets on this book and I think it deserved a little more than that. Therefore, this is my attempt to make you read Gary Anderson’s Animal Magnet.
Some of my favourite reads of all time have been the books I’ve found out of the blue. I found “Voyage to Arcturus” by David Lindsay and “The Death Guard” by Philip George Chadwick*** at a garage sale. They went on to influence everything I’ve ever loved about science-fiction/fantasy novels. I found “It” by Raymond Hawkey while studying in a dusty corner of the North York Library. I then went on to read Hawkey’s “Wild Card,” and “Side Effect” voraciously. His murder-mysteries prophesized Watergate, the popularity of the internet as a social medium, and even current advances in bio-engineering. I was enthralled. I read these quite a while back and since then I’ve continued to search for great texts from authors who are off the beaten path.
This past December, I went down to Hart House for The Small Press Book Fair. I’m an independent zine fan (even made one myself– as many did in college****). There I met Vincent Ponka at a table for Emmerson Street Press. Somewhere in our conversation I mentioned that my favourite novel of all time was James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” Actually, I might have yelled it out, as I’m prone to do.
He then went on to recommend Gary Anderson’s “Animal Magnet,” adding that it was both a thought provoking and a meaty read. I bought it, put it in my pocket, picked up a few chapbooks, and left impressed with the selection at the fair. I cracked my new read open and dived in on the subway home.
“My father and I transitioned in two opposite directions: He from the civilized to the savage and I from the savage to the civilized. He from the bed to the hammock and I from the hammock to the bed. Father had no intention of taking me back to civilization —ever; he desired only that I stay with him in the wilds of the Amazonian rainforest. For what he had come to realize, with an immiscible clarity unattainable in unaltered states, is that civilization is an artificial system superimposed upon the natural world. Nothing more than a semblance of order forced upon nebular chaos.”
There are books that stick with you because of their language or style. There are others that make you identify or fall in love with its characters. Animal Magnet touches upon all of these things. It is a fascinating exploration of human-animal nature through a generational family saga. At two hundred and seventeen pages, this book isn’t as huge as Ulysses, but it is epic. Each chapter is set up to tell the tale of the successor’s through varied perspectives and sometimes through different protagonists. The chapters stand alone as full short stories, but one story cannot exist without the other one before it. Anderson weaves these stories through the language of the characters’ time and place, thus enlisting mixed prose and even transposing chapters to cleverly pull the reader in and out of the novel.
I couldn’t put this book down. In its pages I found an old Western news magazine, (The Curious Case of the Man who Loved the Bearded Lady and the Dog-Faced Boy Who Mourned Him), a science fiction (Big MOFO Specting You), and even a play on magical realism (Heart of Larkness). Anderson utilizes basic animal instinct descriptors and humor to move the story forward even when its characters decide to stay still. Sometimes when a character or generation decides to move on, we are made to question their intentions: Does evolving beyond animal instinct give us meaning, or are we running away from meaning with knowledge? The characters answer in either constructive or destructive epiphanies. Some of them find purpose while others go insane, but even in their insanity they end up finding reason.
“For Georges, the pregnancy is a revelation. It seems as if all his life he has been trying to read a book in a language that is foreign to him. Page after page, he has searched for a shred of meaning, a word that makes sense, a word, a phrase that rings true. Now suddenly, he understands perfectly, every word, every sentence, every nuance. Something has changed, not in the book itself, but in him.”
In an interview with Open Book Ontario, Anderson says, “….Animal Magnet, which has some scenes that probably deserve a nod from the Literary Review and its Bad Sex in Fiction Award. However, in keeping with the novel’s theme of humanness and the human/animal dichotomy, I felt that the sex had to be there — up front and over-the-top.”
He goes on to say, “For me, the sex in Animal Magnet can’t be read straight — these scenes are satirical in nature, if not actual satire. I don’t think I could have written them any other way.” (1)
I found the sex scenes to be both over the top and quite accurate; it’s expected in a book about animal instinct and humanity. Sex can be seen as a driving force to capture a cathartic moment in time in order to prolong it (There is the whole animalistic need to procreate, but can’t that also be seen as a way of stopping time or to continue our own mark on the world?). Anderson writes these scenes satirically so that the reader gets caught becoming a delighted voyeur or an unwilling participant in those moments. It’s an interesting effect.
Is it our basic animal instinct to move forward, or is it to stagnate while revelling in our passions? As humans do we feel isolated by our ability to express thought through language? Do we search and philosophize ourselves away from happiness? Animal Magnet poses these questions to our individual thirst for the things beyond our basic survival.
There’s a tragic certainty to the book’s conclusion and one that I’m still thinking about since I’ve finished it. I’ll let you figure that out when you pick up a copy, which I urge you to do so. I’m dying to talk with others who have read this book. I would like to read an in-depth “spoiler-alert” review or analysis. Animal Magnet not only engages you, it makes you think about your own motivations and your own threads through time. It’s the individual as icon: moving forward like an accidental hero passing through the now, motivated by its animalistic urges and the call of its human heart.
Gary Anderson is from the prairies of south Alberta and lives in South Korea with his family. You can order Animal Magnet through the Emmerson Street Press website:
** Yes, this is my very well-worn copy of the book, due to carrying it with me to the laundry-mat the week my washer broke down. Trust me, it would behoove you not to let me borrow your books. Just point me in the direction I can get the book you have recommended me and I will get it. I wear my books like shoes. This is why I buy a lot of my books or only take out only hardcovers from the library.
*** There is some racism in Death Guard, but like a lot of novels of its genre back then, this is when readers must take into account the writer as an incidental protagonist. However, the themes in The Death Guard are way ahead of its time. Coincidentally, the genetic engineering you see here is seen in a quirky reversal in Animal Magnet.
****It was called “Mudpie” and I produced three issues. It had comic strips, poetry and music news. I had a few contributors and distributed maybe 50 copies per issue on green colored paper. In the 1990’s, with the dawn of grunge and college rock, those were the days.