Gary Anderson is from the prairies of southern Alberta. He has a master’s degree in English from the University of Victoria. He lives with his wife and two children in South Korea.
“Innovative and readable.”
"Animal Magnet offers one of the most innovative and readable new novels that I've read in years. A cunning, bawdy tale."
"Animal Magnet is a knockout and is the most original piece I have read since the early 90's.”
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 advances in bio-engineering and the popularity of the internet as a social medium. 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 Toronto 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.”
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 reveling 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.