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TALKING ANIMALS by Joni Murphy Kirkus Star


by Joni Murphy

Pub Date: Aug. 4th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-374-53874-3
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Murphy offers a satirical fable set in an alternate world peopled by all species of animals.

New York City is introduced as a “vessel for animals” in Murphy’s first chapter, a purposely grandiose history of the city in which readers will assume animal references—“herds,” “invasive species”—are metaphoric. They’re not, or only in the sense that the book is one giant metaphor, a 21st-century combination of Animal Farm and Aesop's Fables. It's also a political thriller about an unwitting government bureaucrat uncovering corruption—think Robert Redford in his Three Days of the Condor period except he’s a llama or alpaca. The alpaca would be Alfonzo, toiling in the basement of City Hall as second assistant to the nonexistent assistant to the nonexistent commissioner of records while also working on his Ph.D. Illicitly printing out his dissertation at work, he borrows office paper from his friend Mitchell, a llama who works on housing issues (a humorous tip of the hat to New York's Mitchell-Lama affordable housing program). Better at office politics than his friend, Mitchell nevertheless feels caught between the needs of the poor and homeless versus the demands of landlords and the mayor, whom he hates. Alfonzo’s dissertation is rejected, in part because the scrap paper Mitchell has given him happens to have irrelevant facts and figures printed on the pre-used side. Meanwhile, right-wing radio is influencing land animals to blame sea animals “for every woe,” and Alfonzo finds a publication in his bag from the resistance movement SERF, the Sea Equality Revolutionary Front, a cause Mitchell’s lemur girlfriend, a barista, has been pushing. When Alfonzo learns his department is being closed, and the reason, he and Mitchell are spurred into action. Murphy packs a lot of issues—class, climate change immigration, vegetarianism, and more—into a familiar plot about malfeasance. She balances her poetic ruminations and dogmatic lecturing with a goofy relish for puns, from “The Five Burrows” of New York to the “freshly groomed” horse mayor to “Reading Rainboa" to radical “Bobby Seal.”

Weird yet engrossing and hard to forget.