Monday, June 18, 2007

#41 - Effigy

Weeks have passed since I started reading Alissa York's intense new book Effigy. Set on a Mormon (who like to be referred to as 'Saints') ranch in the middle of the last century, Effigy is a stunning book that explores life for the Hammer family after the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857. A diverse group of people in a plural family, Brother Hammer and his four wives, his multiple children, and the hired hands (an Indian tracker named, well, Tracker, and Bendy, who takes care of the animals) live in Utah on a gorgeous plot of land where they raise horses.

Keen on hunting and going blind, Hammer relies upon the Tracker to help him with his kills. His first wife, Ursula, rules the household; his second, Ruth, has a colony of silk worms that demand her attention; Thankful remains barren, but holds all the others somewhat hostage when it comes to Hammer's lustful appetite; and Dorrie, or Sister Eudora, his youngest wife, was married for her hands alone, for it's her skill he covets: she's a taxidermist. And all Hammer's concerned about is keeping his kills alive, in a way, for all to see.

Effigy remains a complex novel throughout, with York's skill as a writer glaringly apparent at each turn: nothing is necessarily as it appears, and the story-behind-the-story with each of these characters pulls you in chapter after chapter. Rich with historical facts and with York's attention to detail, especially around Dorrie and her particular skills, the novel seems to take on a life of its own that's sort of akin to watching Deadwood, but not as foul-mouthed, obviously. As a reader, you're absorbed by the time and the place here, and I appreciated that over the last few weeks.

In some places I felt as though the story sort of got away from the author, but it was never enough to make me put the book down, just the opposite in fact. It's a broad novel, one that takes patience and understanding, and I for one appreciate being made to work a bit harder by a writer. All in all, I'd highly recommend this book, I loved Mercy so much and I'm glad to see York ever-expanding her already great skills as a novelist with Effigy.

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