Book Review: Animal Person by Alexander MacLeod

I received an Advance e-copy of this book thanks to McClelland & Stewart and NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

The stories in this new collection by Alexander MacLeod share a sort of unsettling quality. Moments in people’s lives when things are not as they should be. Sometimes this shows up in something as obvious as the sudden death of a young woman. Or it is the moment, years later, when a character learns that the friendly neighbour at the motel turned out to be a murderer. While the characters vary broadly, many of the stories are narrated in first person and many seem to share a sense of displacement. A young man who has grown up in Ontario, only an occasional visitor to his close-knit extended family in Nova Scotia. A family in the middle of a cross-country move. A young mother who, when she visits her partner’s small hometown, still has to deal with the questions of “Who might you be related to?”

MacLeod is, of course, the son of Alistair MacLeod, and the Maritimes are heavily featured as locale in this collection but in a more subtle way than I often find with other East Coast-based stories. (As a West Coast Canadian, I have found some Nova Scotia writers rather heavyhanded.) With great subtlety, MacLeod seems to be exploring the new generation of Nova Scotians. The ones who have moved there later in life and the ones who have left. The ones with deep roots that they cannot escape, even as they do not understand all of their own family history. This is perhaps what gives the stories their somewhat unsettling quality; these are unsettled people.

MacLeod’s voice and setting is strong and engaging. I found myself more and more immersed in the stories as they progressed until, by the last page, I wanted to keep turning pages, finding new stories to read.

11 thoughts on “Book Review: Animal Person by Alexander MacLeod”

  1. That feeling of wanting there to be more is the sign of a successful book! I always feel it must be difficult for a child to follow a parent into writing – comparisons are often unavoidable unless they go into completely different genres.

    1. The funny thing is that the senior MacLeod is a big name in Canadian Lit but actually didn’t write a huge amount. Several short stories and one novel. So his son could quickly end up writing more than him but will probably always be compared to his father.

  2. I cannot wait to read this! I am first on the list at the library. You did a great job of describing the feel of this collection and the “new generation of Nova Scotians.”
    Was Lagomorph in this collection?

    1. Thank you! I bet you will enjoy this and that multi-generation Nova Scotia aspect. Lagomorph is the first story in it! Have you read that one already?

  3. Sounds like the variety of stories here, held together by location instead of the same tired theme, make the connection as a whole interesting. That’s what I’ve been looking for as I read through a few collections lately.

    1. Yes, the stories have a lot of diversity but also feel like they fit together. MacLeod can’t really escape his position as a second-gen Canadian writer but I think he is earning his place and bringing a different voice than his father had.

  4. I think I have this on my shelf right now! Now I need to go check. I find that too, that when writers from the east coast write, they can’t help but frame everything within that setting, and as someone who has never even visited, it can make me feel like an outsider, but honestly it just makes me want to visit even more! haha

    1. I’m glad you feel the same way because I’ve wondered if I’m just being too sensitive! There doesn’t seem to be the same history of writing on the West Coast that the East Coast has so I’m a little jealous too!

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