Metamorphosis, resurrection and the mysterious ways in which all living things are connected are the themes of Davis’s homespun magical-realist sixth novel (Versailles, 2002, etc.).
Its setting is Varennes, a quaint little town on the Canadian border whose inhabitants all know one another as well as they know both their own domestic animals and the latters’ wild counterparts. With lordly omniscience, Davis takes us inside all these creatures’ thoughts, following an arresting opening sequence in which a dead man is revived. Preadolescent Mees Kipp’s life-giving “power” (first discovered when she was three, and since honed by conversations with periodic visitor Jesus) is only one of the many mysteries of growing up—as her girlfriends Lorna and Sunny only dimly comprehend. That the world is an infinitely varied, bountiful and threatening place becomes progressively clear to everyone in Varennes, including bookbinder Andrea Murdock (through whose research we learn of the long-ago “Sunday School Outing Disaster” that claimed several of the town’s best and brightest); sexually hyperactive sexagenarian Piet Zeebrugge and his mother Helen, who languishes impatiently in the Crockett Home for the Aged; love-starved Billie Carpenter, who devotes her untapped energies to humanitarian and environmental causes; Mees’s perpetually misbehaving malamute Margaret; a beaver targeted for annihilation by a charismatic trapper; and many others. Davis leads her characters—human and animal alike—surely toward another potential “disaster” on Pentecostal Sunday, mingling numerous seriocomic incidents with summary statements that reveal a cosmic vision that can instantly charm you, then stomp all over you (e.g., “Water has more properties that are beneficial to human beings than any other substance. Also it can drown you”). The quirky, immensely gifted Davis has been compared to Kafka, Dinesen and Hans Christian Andersen. One might also say she is to contemporary fiction what Emily Dickinson was to 19th-century poetry.
A delightful, surprise-filled narrative: Davis’s best yet.