Animal Magnet opens with an ill-fated footman and his terrible story of madness, incest, and murder. He records his unintentionally entertaining woes in a letter to a local nobleman requesting intercession on his behalf. Poorly educated and uninformed of the world beyond his employer’s walls, the footman is charming, naive, and ultimately unsuccessful in gaining pardon. The narrative then jumps forward two generations to playwright Georges on his twenty-third birthday. Georges has just burned his life’s work, a play/parable about the government, and intends to commit suicide at the end of the evening. The script of his doings does not end as planned. And so it goes. Each bud on this family tree meets with an untimely and tragic end. The prophet in Vermont gets arrested by discontented followers and dies in prison. The dog-faced boy in Mexico succumbs to his malaise and commits suicide. The pharmacologist sheds the trappings of civilization and founds a cult of toad-lickers in the rainforest only to be a victim of forceful succession. And so on. Eventually, the family’s genes find their way to Reggie, a talking ape with an IQ of 130. And Reggie may be the most human of them all.
The draw of Animal Magnet is its outlandish characters and its narrative structure. Essentially, the book is a series of short stories threaded together by the family connection. Each one has a different structure and a different voice. Anderson wields a letter, play, manuscript, newspaper article, as well as the traditional story format, to tell of each character’s wild experience. And wild they are. Each section plumbs the depths of man’s animal nature, particularly his rampant sexuality. The experience is jarring at first, particularly before understanding the structure of the book, but worth the initial disorientation. The amusing anecdotes leave the reader wondering how civilized man truly can be.
|Run Amok Books
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