Mercy

Mercy

Alissa York

Short Stories / Literature & Fiction

Award-winning author Alissa York’s first novel is a haunting and masterful exploration of how passions of the spirit and the flesh can overwhelm us, and even come to inhabit the ground beneath our feet. Divided into two parts, Mercy pairs a single year in the past with a single night in the present, as they unfold in the town of Mercy, Manitoba, and in the neighbouring black spruce bog.In 1948, a dedicated priest named August Day arrives in Mercy to take over from Father Rock, who has passed away. Although Father Day is young, the bishop has seen fit to let him take over the parish, and August feels he is fulfilling his years of devotion, study and struggle -- at last being able to serve God as alter Christus, or another Christ. The first service he is to perform in his new church is the marriage of Thomas Rose, the town butcher, to Mathilda Nickels, the orphaned niece of the church housekeeper.Thomas Rose is a good man who waited years to express his love for Mathilda. And when Mathilda accepted his proposal, he was sure that their life together would bring them both joy, though in truth he knew little about his betrothed. Mathilda grew up in a Catholic orphanage and has since been living with her aunt Vera at St. Mary’s; she has not explored the world beyond the realm of her religious devotion, and approaches her wedding day with a mix of fear and dread. But when her eyes meet those of Father Day at the ceremony, Thomas seems to dissolve beside her and she feels physical passion for the first time in her life. As of that moment, August and Mathilda will only have eyes, and hearts, for each other.Over the coming weeks, the young bride spends more and more time at St. Mary’s, caring for her ailing aunt and taking over the woman’s cleaning duties, but also savouring her brief moments with Father Day. Her marriage remains unconsummated, and her lust for the priest grows to fever pitch, as does his for her -- fuelled not only by the secrets they share in the confessional, but by the fiery text of the Song of Songs. When they do unite, it seems to mark the end of their secret relationship… but the child Mathilda carries away from the encounter assures us their story is not over. Rather, it is yet another thread to add to the tapestry of unspoken stories underpinning Mercy itself, and one that will affect the town’s psyche for decades to come.Half a century later, another sort of preacher comes to Mercy -- a womanizing widower who wants to develop the black spruce bog on the edge of town and build a religious camp. Reverend Carl Mann is fairly confident of success, having taken up with Mayor Lavinia Wylie, but worries about the well-publicized protests of a woman known as Bog Mary, who has lived her entire life in the heart of the bog. He heads off to confront her and ends up lost and hurt, but Mary uses her natural remedies and knowledge to heal not only his wounds but his broken spirit.A dark yet compassionate novel, Mercy rivals the fiction debuts of Anne Michaels, Ann-Marie MacDonald and Gail Anderson-Dargatz. Alissa York brings to life a tale of misguided love and damaged souls with language of incredible clarity and intensity.From Publishers WeeklyLust and sin grapple with religious piety in this moving, occasionally overwrought novel by Canadian writer York. As August Day's first duty as priest of St. Mary's church in Mercy, Manitoba, in 1948, he marries the kindly but dull town butcher, Thomas Rose, to Mathilda Nickels, the orphaned niece of the church's housekeeper. Immediately overcome by lust for handsome August, virginal Mathilda refuses to consummate her marriage—that is, until she seduces the priest, becomes pregnant with his child and needs to keep Thomas from finding out. York develops this triangular relationship with frequent flashbacks to each protagonist's miserable childhood, alternately focusing on the town drunk, Castor Wylie. The plot can feel schematic, and the grisly denouement of Mathilda and August's sinning is telegraphed early on. But in the novel's second half, set in 2003, readers will find some gripping characters—an autistic child, a woman who lives in a bog, another sinful man of the cloth—that propel the story into new, genuinely surprising territory. York's unflinching but tender eye for the natural world results in graceful ballets of description: butchering techniques have seldom been described in such precise, loving detail, and the flora and fauna of the bog are invested with vibrant individuality. York is a gifted writer whose next novel will no doubt be a more consistent work of emotional power. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. From BooklistThis debut novel--combining the spirit of Peter Carey's Oscar and Lucinda laced with the corrosive foreboding of Heidi Julavits' Mineral Palace--marks the arrival of a talented new Canadian writer. In Mercy, Manitoba, an outpost town in the 1940s, the new priest, Father August Day, and the butcher's wife, Mathilda, begin an ill-fated love affair. Father August and Mathilda are dangerously drawn to one another from the moment they lock eyes on her wedding day. The isolation of the community presses down upon them as both the tension of attraction and the fear of discovery mount. In its second half, the novel flashes forward to present-day Mercy, where the past reverberates in unexpected ways. The writing has a trancelike intensity that sets the psychological mood of the characters and the backwater locale. Writing in a confidential voice that sweeps the reader into her character's lives and the dark corners of their minds and actions, York has crafted a beguiling tale of a small town teeming with secrets. Misha StoneCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Fauna

Fauna

Alissa York

Short Stories / Literature & Fiction

NOMINEE 2011 – Toronto Book AwardsWhen 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.From the Hardcover edition.ReviewNATIONAL BESTSELLER“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)From the Hardcover edition.About the AuthorAlissa 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.From the Hardcover edition.
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Effigy

Effigy

Alissa York

Short Stories / Literature & Fiction

A stunning novel of loss, memory, despair and deliverance by one of Canada’s best young fiction writers, set on a Mormon ranch in nineteenth-century Utah.Dorrie, a shock-pale child with a mass of untameable black hair, cannot recall anything of her life before she recovered from an illness at seven. A solitary child, she spends her spare time learning the art of taxidermy, completely fascinated by the act of bringing new and eternal life to the bodies of the dead. At fourteen, her parents marry her off to Erastus Hammer, a polygamous horse breeder and renowned hunter, who does not want to bed her. The role he has in mind for his fourth and youngest wife is creator of trophies of his most impressive kills, an urgent desire in him as he is slowly going blind. Happy to be given this work, Dorrie secludes herself in her workshop, away from Mother Hammer’s watchful eyes and the rivalry between the elder wives.But as the novel opens, Hammer has brought Dorrie his latest kills, a family of wolves, and for the first time in her short life she struggles with her craft, dreaming each night of crows and strange scenes of violence. The new hand, Bendy Drown, is the only one to see her dilemma and to offer her help, a dangerous game in a Mormon household. Outside, a lone wolf prowls the grounds looking for his lost pack, and his nighttime searching will unearth the tensions and secrets of this complicated and conflicted family.Inspired by the real events of the Mountain Meadows Massacre in 1857, Alissa York blends fact with fiction in a haunting story of a family separated by secrets and united by faith.From the Hardcover edition.Review“A small masterpiece. . . . Exhilarating and genuinely fresh.” —National Post“York’s writing is graphic and impressionistic, sharp-edged and sensual. Though both style and landscape at times bring to mind Annie Dillard and Cormac McCarthy, York’s voice is very much her own.” —Quill & Quire“York’s mesmerizing tale is rich in historical detail and driven by a cast of deftly drawn and perfectly memorable characters ... A wonderful book.”—Lori Lansens"Alissa York's Effigy is a historical fiction almost frighteningly real. Her creation of Erastus Hammer’s four wives and complex household in frontier Utah is so precise and convincing, and allows the reader so entirely and readily inside, that the only uncertainty is how to get back to the present again. This is a rewarding read. Don’t miss it."—Fred StensonFrom the Trade Paperback edition.About the AuthorAlissa York’s highly acclaimed first novel, Mercy, was published in 2003. She won the Mary Scorer Award for Best Book by a Manitoba Publisher for her short story collection, Any Given Power. Her stories have also won the Journey Prize and the Bronwen Wallace Award, and in 2001 she won the John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer. She has lived all over Canada, and now makes her home in Toronto.
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