LAND MAM­MALS AND SEA CREA­TURES

Jen Neale, ECW Press (MAY) Soft­cover $16.95 (300pp), 978-1-77041-414-3

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight / Fantasy -

Julie Bird is dis­tracted from a blonde stranger ges­tic­u­lat­ing from the shore when a whale ap­pears, headed for the beach. Soon, it be­comes clear that the big blue wants to beach it­self, and Julie pic­tures “her­self on her knees at the bot­tom, an air traf­fic—wa­ter traf­fic— con­troller, wav­ing an or­ange flag.” But the whale suc­ceeds, and Julie’s day on the wa­ter is ru­ined, even be­fore a bald ea­gle and two ravens dive head­first into the rocks nearby. In Jen Neale’s Land Mam­mals and Sea Crea­tures, this is where the past has come to die.

Julie moved back to Port Braid, Van­cou­ver, to deal with her ail­ing fa­ther, Marty. He’s sick, but that’s noth­ing new. He’s been sick all her life— whether from grief at the loss of her mother or with PTSD from the Gulf War. But some­thing’s dif­fer­ent this time. He’s let­ting go of his ha­bit­ual rou­tines and stolid si­lence to host live mu­sic and tell Julie sto­ries about his old dog, Midge. Julie sus­pects the rot­ting whale car­cass, the stranger from the beach—any­thing to de­flect from what Marty is headed to­ward.

Half shaman, half cat­a­lyst, the blonde stranger bridges the past and present, pro­vok­ing Marty into telling sto­ries about his past that re­veal and ob­scure in equal mea­sure. Though they’ve long been united by their re­la­tion­ship’s steady dys­func­tion, these rev­e­la­tions pro­pel the Birds in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions: while Julie strug­gles to ac­cept her lim­its, Marty fi­nally al­lows him­self to con­nect to what he’s long tried to for­get.

Land Mam­mals and Sea Crea­tures’s mag­i­cal re­al­ism is dark and apoc­ryphal. On this jour­ney through the val­ley of the shadow of death, the only clear sig­nal is dis­tress. As Julie, Marty, and the mys­te­ri­ous stranger tra­verse il­lu­mi­nat­ing fic­tions and in­ex­pli­ca­ble an­i­mal sui­cides, Neale never lets you for­get that hu­mans are an­i­mals too.

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