Animals by Don LePan
Soft Skull Press, New York, 2010
Borrowed from the library.
Sam is deaf and lives during a time when people with disabilities are being abandoned by society. There is no effort to help the blind and deaf, no system for children born with a chronic illness. No one tries to find out what is wrong, Sam is just different, and he is eventually classified as “mongrel”. His mother, left in dire financial straits, is forced to abandon him, hoping the family she leaves him with will adopt him as a pet. A pet?
I am not cute. I am not a pet. I am not a mongrel. I am a child, that’s all.
Animals is told in two parts. The first part is a manuscript telling Sam’s story, the story of his birth family and his adoptive family, written by Naomi Okun, the girl whose family does take him in. The second part is an explanation, with abundant footnotes, by someone named Broderick Clark, of this autobiographical manuscript. LePan has used an interesting structure to deal with a difficult subject, one many of us would just as soon ignore.
This is speculative fiction, fiction that, given the present circumstances, points towards a possible future. It reminds me of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”.
There is no easy way to write about this. We are in the future. Due to factory farming and over use of antibiotics there has been a “great extinction”. All of our domestic animals and pets have died. There is a lack of protein and people are struggling. There is a campaign stressing the dangers of soy. The gap between rich and poor has widened exponentially. The world is edging towards chaos.
As more and more “sub-normal” people are marginalized and de-humanized, some are adopted as “pets” and some are classified as chattel. Eventually the chattel are gathered together, their labor is utilized and they become a food source. Like I said, there is no easy way to write about this.
LaPan claims his main argument is against factory-farming and for the humane treatment of our food animals but I was left with a much broader sense of let’s stop eating meat(and fish), period. This is a difficult and challenging book. I feel like I need to put some distance between my first reading and then read it again.
I need to say that over the past few years I have grown closer and closer to becoming a true vegetarian. There are occasions when I eat chicken or fish, and I am not vegan by any means, but something in me has me turning away from eating flesh. Maybe it’s my knowledge of factory farms, or my awareness of the growing understanding of animal behavior and animal “consciousness”. Maybe it’s the Buddhist idea of Ahimsa – do no harm. I buy organic when I can. I eat tofu, legumes and lots of vegetables. Animals, a deeply disturbing book, only reinforces my thoughts about food, about how we raise and slaughter what we eat.
Now I want to read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.