Tuesday, December 23, 2008


“Your people got any wolf stories?”

-- Erastus Hammer
Effigy, by Alissa York.
Believe it or not, a real wolf and an imaginary crow figure prominently in the impressive array of essential characters in this novel. Not that it is lacking in plot, but clearly, it is more of a character-driven, imagistic work. Richly poetic, or as I have previously described it, lyrical.
I love this book, present-tense. I read its final page last night, but the story stays with me, a reverberating echo.
Erastus Hammer is a four-wived Mormon horse-rancher in 1860’s Utah. Because of his failing eyesight he is forced to pursue his greatest passion [the shooting of animals] by relying on his Native American guide, Tracker. Erastus claims the spoils, but Tracker fires the shots.
Erastus selected his fourth wife, Dorrie, specifically for her unique talents at taxidermy. She faithfully “resurrects” all of the carcasses deposited at her workshop, but seems to be having an unusually difficult time bringing a certain wolf pack to life.
There is so much I could say about the diversity of Hammer’s four wives. Of the way the title of the book relates to its content. Of the guilt and longing in the heart of Tracker. Of the winding way that “Bendy” Drown becomes a farmhand on the ranch, or how he becomes the agent whereby Dorrie herself is resurrected. Of the foreboding terror a vengeful wolf wreaks upon the household as he howls at night, stalking the perimeter of the homestead. Of the rich way the author reveals the horror of the [real-life] Mountain Meadow Massacre, which took place in 1857 when a wagon train from Arkansas en route to California was ambushed. Dorrie survived this horror, as she will survive the dreadfulness of being Erastus Hammer’s wife. Instead of providing synopsis, I would point you towards the book itself and encourage you to pick it up.

The beauty of Effigy involves the intricacy of the threadwork. Grimness delivered with grace. Through letters, flashbacks, dreams, insights into the hypocrisy of religious devotion gone awry, and ever-eloquent narration, Alissa York has provided me with one of my favorite reads of 2008.
Effigy is a wonderful patchwork-quilt of a novel. Eerie, ominous, riveting and intricate. Searing in the end, and delicious [albeit bittersweet] in revenge and reward.
The author has said, "I want people to really feel a lot. It's not my goal to just make people think. I want them to think, but I want them, more than anything, to feel."
Here in Effigy, she succeeds at both things.


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