Run Amok Books, 2016
Animal Magnet is Gary Anderson’s comedic, satirical novel revolving around a kind of family saga tracing the descendants of a 1700s stableboy’s stableboy as they stumble through their quixotic, nonsensical lives attempting to overcome their animal passions. Every chapter of the novel is in a different narrative voice and style, demonstrating just how skilled of a craftsman Anderson is. However, the gimmick often feels like the only really innovative aspect of the novel. Make no mistake, Anderson is a very good writer, but his form is superior to his content.
Because each chapter is a hyper-stylized caricature of the era of the particular protagonist, a reader may find themselves experience a sort of authorial cleverness fatigue. As with the opening chapter, the gimmick quickly gets tiresome leading to the suffering of the satire. The humor of the novel grows less and less funny until the it ends in a sort of sad Animal Farm parody.
If the idea is to explore what makes one human and how that differs from the bestial, then the novel fails because it has no interest in finding an answer (it already has one). If Animal Magnet is meant to problematize a reader’s understanding of themselves as beyond or better than the bestial, then it also falls short because the scenarios of the narrative are trite, false, and, ultimately, too silly to be seriously considered meaningful or even tragicomic.
The idea that humans are like animals is hardly novel or even interesting as a metaphor. In fact, such ‘satire’ most often falls flat, being forced and not nearly as clever as it thinks it is. Most recently, when a streaming show like BoJack Horsemen exists in a world of sentient humans and animals, it explores the notion of personhood through the pun (the lowest form of humor) in order to have as broad as base as possible to explore depression (the highest form of contempt). Animal Magnet never reaches is level of astuteness.
If I read the novel as a send up of Desmond Morris and New Age novels like The Alchemist or, even more specifically, a mockery of Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael, then I can get a foothold into the purpose of this story. But, divorced from these extremely dated points of reference, Anderson’s novel floats in a sea of ‘meh’ and ‘why this and not nothing?’
Certainly, Anderson’s novel isn’t to my tastes but I think anyone who enjoys masculinist fiction of a particular era (John Updike, Tom Wolfe, etc.) and is looking for something speculative will find Animal Magnet engaging and pleasant. Again, Anderson is an adroit novelist with perhaps one of the most acute and unique senses of humor I’ve seen in print. I’m glad that Run Amok Books has re-issued his originally independently published novel, because Anderson merits a platform for his unique narrative skills.
Gary Anderson was born and raised on the prairies of southern Alberta, Canada. Upon taking an advance degree in English Literature, he moved to Korea, where he worked in educational publishing. After a ten year stay in Korea, Gary returned to the West. He now lives and writes in Central New Jersey.
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