Effigy by Alissa YorkEffigy by Alissa York


byAlissa York

Paperback | December 11, 2007

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A stunning novel of loss, memory, despair and deliverance by one of Canada’s best young fiction writers, set on a Mormon ranch in nineteenth-century Utah.

Dorrie, a shock-pale child with a mass of untameable black hair, cannot recall anything of her life before she recovered from an illness at seven. A solitary child, she spends her spare time learning the art of taxidermy, completely fascinated by the act of bringing new and eternal life to the bodies of the dead. At fourteen, her parents marry her off to Erastus Hammer, a polygamous horse breeder and renowned hunter, who does not want to bed her. The role he has in mind for his fourth and youngest wife is creator of trophies of his most impressive kills, an urgent desire in him as he is slowly going blind. Happy to be given this work, Dorrie secludes herself in her workshop, away from Mother Hammer’s watchful eyes and the rivalry between the elder wives.

But as the novel opens, Hammer has brought Dorrie his latest kills, a family of wolves, and for the first time in her short life she struggles with her craft, dreaming each night of crows and strange scenes of violence. The new hand, Bendy Drown, is the only one to see her dilemma and to offer her help, a dangerous game in a Mormon household. Outside, a lone wolf prowls the grounds looking for his lost pack, and his nighttime searching will unearth the tensions and secrets of this complicated and conflicted family.

Inspired by the real events of the Mountain Meadows Massacre in 1857, Alissa York blends fact with fiction in a haunting story of a family separated by secrets and united by faith.

From the Hardcover edition.
Alissa York’s highly acclaimed first novel, Mercy, was published in 2003. She won the Mary Scorer Award for Best Book by a Manitoba Publisher for her short story collection, Any Given Power. Her stories have also won the Journey Prize and the Bronwen Wallace Award, and in 2001 she won the John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba W...
Title:EffigyFormat:PaperbackDimensions:448 pages, 8 × 5.15 × 0.9 inPublished:December 11, 2007Publisher:Random House of CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0679314733

ISBN - 13:9780679314738


Rated 2 out of 5 by from Leaves you wondering... Effigy by Alissa was one of those novels that I read the back of an bought right away. The premise was intriguing. A polygamous Morman family bound by traditions living in the shadow of the Mountain Meadows Massacre (? not sure if thats what its called). Had the novel focused on the life of Dorrie (the youngest of the four wives and a taxidermist) and her interactions with the other Hammer wives, the novel could have retained its appeal. Instead York goes on tangents about minor characters like Bendy and the Hunter. Their histories are explored more than Dorrie's and definately more than the other Hammers. And while their stories are mildly interesting, the appeal of the polygamous family and the taxidermist and all the hooks which are introduced at the beginning are lost and we are left with a number of story threads, all weaving together to form a mottled tapestry of a novel. At the end of the novel you are left wondering and wishing that you knew more. All in all, a good idea, conceptually, but not fully realized as novel.
Date published: 2008-07-18
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Didn't enjoy it I had high hope for this book as a finalist for the Giller Prize, ended up feeling very disappointed and discontinued reading after much struggle. The storytelling was quite confusing from the beginning, I was lost as to the names and characteristics of the various characters from the start. There might be some treasure in this book, but sadly my struggle was terminated before my reaching any of it. Sorry to say this might be an example of award-winning status not matching public expectation - nevertheless, give it benefit of the doubt and try it, because it could be just me.
Date published: 2008-03-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Riveting Booker prize nominee Alyssa York has conjured up a haunting story of Utah territory's polygamous Mormons, with it's roots in the infamous Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857. Incredibly told, the story unfolds as a tapestry, with all parts tightly woven together. It is painstakingly-researched. Not for the faint of heart.
Date published: 2007-12-11

Read from the Book

Utah Territory1867–1–She’s been looking out for them since the sun still hung over the Stansbury Range. Now, as they finally shimmer into view, it is ­night.Standing in the open barn door, Dorrie peers out across moon­lit pasture, marking their steady approach. There’s no mistaking Hammer, squat as a chopping block astride his giant black mare, his boot heels bouncing even at a walk. Behind him, the Tracker glides. It’s a trick of the ­dark – the Paiute guide puts one foot in front of the other like any man. Seven years on the ranch, and he has yet to take hold of a horse’s reins. When distance demands, he mounts up behind Hammer. When given the choice, he walks or ­runs.As they draw nearer, Dorrie can see there’s no room for the Tracker on Hammer’s saddle tonight. His place is occupied by a draped and gleaming form. A jolt of pleasure shoots down through the base of her spine and ­beyond–­as though, like the ­milk-­white body that commands her gaze, she too is possessed of a magnificent ­tail. Beside the Paiute the bay pack horse weaves, its burden a ­multi-­toned mound. The black mare trots up a little, perhaps in response to a ­hay-­laden waft from the stable, perhaps just a cluck of Hammer’s tongue. The Tracker keeps pace, close enough now that Dorrie can make out the ordinary motion of his feet trading forward and back. She steps out a little, broadening her wedge of lamplight as they enter the ­yard.“Sister Eudora,” Hammer ­calls.Her shoulders ratchet up at the sound of her name in his mouth. “You’re back.” She never knows what to call him. Mr. Hammer? Brother Hammer? This last seems plain ­wrong–­he’s old enough to call her daughter, even granddaughter. She could call him Erastus. He would allow such familiarity, might even welcome it, but the name repels her, so coarse it threatens to abrade the tongue. Which leaves one ­choice–­the word she uses sparingly, when she can’t help but address him. Husband.“Eudora,” he says again, “see what I’ve brought you this fine night.”He draws his horse up closer than he ought to, its breath steaming her crown. Ink stands higher than sixteen hands. Dorrie ducks beneath her massive black neck, passing Hammer’s boot hooked in its iron to stand where the head of the white body hangs. Its face is long, pouring down into an abrupt darkness of nose. Blood behind the left ear and all down the neck, covering the withers like a ­shawl. “It’ll be a job to clean,” she ­says.Hammer twists in his saddle. “Where would you have me shoot it, the tip of the tail?”She doesn’t answer, instead reaching up to push her fingers deep into a clean patch of the animal’s ruff. As a rule, fur provides a temporary refuge for her afflicted hands. Not tonight. The plush of the white wolf’s coat awakens a crackling discomfort beyond the usual burn. She grabs her hand back, dropping her eyes. “Stand back now,” Hammer tells the top of her head, and she does so numbly, thrusting both hands deep into the front pocket of her ­smock. He dismounts, the mare’s height causing him to land hard and sway on his heels. Reaching out to cup the ­she-­wolf’s chin, he thumbs her upper lip back to reveal a yellowed fang. “Pretty thing, ain’t she?” Dorrie ­nods. The Tracker says nothing, busy at the bay’s side, quietly loosing knots. His hands work fluidly in the corner of Dorrie’s eye, and she turns in time to watch him slide a second, larger wolf from the pack horse’s back. Drawing it by the forepaws over one shoulder, he twists, squatting slightly to assume its grey bulk. The bay stands unmoving, despite the stink of predator jangling ancient bells in its ­brain.The Tracker sways a little on the first step, then finds his balance and proceeds, Dorrie taking sharp, skipping steps before him to open wide the high barn door. Once inside, he bows over her workbench, ducks his head and lets the animal roll from his shoulders. As he straightens and backs away, Dorrie moves in ­close. Standing over the wolf, she feels an unfamiliar fluttering beneath her rib cage. She holds her breath a moment before reaching out to lift its tail. A ­male–­no surprise there, given Hammer’s preference for family ­sets. As though privy to her thoughts, the Tracker returns with the second load clutched to his chest. Dorrie can make out multiple ears, paws, a couple of tails. This time he opens his arms as he bows over the bench, allowing the bundle to separate into three ­pups–­two the size of ­well-­fed cats, the third smaller, an ­iron-­grey ­runt.Hammer enters now, staggering under the mother’s weight. He lurches toward them, barely in control of his load, but when the Tracker steps forward to help, he lets out a grunt, the meaning of which is clear. The Paiute nods, hands at his sides. A few steps more and Hammer crashes against the workbench, the white wolf slithering from his shoulders to fall across mate and young. For a moment no one ­speaks–­Hammer breathless, leaning on his knuckles, Dorrie standing to one side of him and slightly behind, the Tracker retreating to his station by the ­door. They are alone together, the three of them, and they are ­not. Behind them the collection looms. Tiers of straw bales ascend the western wall, each of them crowded with Dorrie’s creations. Hunter lies alongside ­hunted–­fox and pocket mouse, lynx and grouse, mountain lion and deer. She can feel them there, every beast, every ­bird. Hammer draws himself up, holding a fist to his running nose. The chemicals of Dorrie’s trade have troubled him from the beginning. After three years of marriage and countless specimens preserved, the very air of her workshop is a poison to him. Already his eyes are glassy with tears. “Get on with it, will you.”From the Hardcover edition.

Bookclub Guide

1. How has Dorrie been shaped by what she lived through as a child? How does she make a life for herself on the Burr farm and, later, on the Hammer ranch?2. From the moment she lays eyes on Mr. Cruikshank’s lifeless sky-blue budgie, Dorrie is entranced. What do you think taxidermy means to her–both in terms of her everyday life, and in terms of her internal experience? Is she labouring under any misconceptions as to the essential nature of her work? How do you feel about taxidermy as a field of human endeavour?3. To what degree has Bendy’s life been influenced by the fact that he’s profoundly double-jointed? Is malleability strictly a physical aspect of his character, or does it go deeper? What is it about Dorrie (and the dog girl before her) that Bendy finds so attractive?4. Why do you think the Tracker has attached himself to Hammer? What changes in Tracker when he kills the mother wolf and her young? What is the nature of his relationship with the father wolf?5. Hammer is an obsessive trophy hunter with a penchant for family sets. What do killing and collecting these creatures mean to him? Do you see any parallels between his attitudes towards nature and his attitudes towards women?6. Each of Hammer’s four wives finds a way to wield some kind of power within the complex structure of the polygamous household. Are these women getting what they want and need, and if so, how?7. Hammer’s first wife, Mother Hammer, runs the household with an iron fist. She is also the most religious member of the family, though the nature of her faith is complex and far from purely spiritual. Consider the circumstances of her conversion and the role of the charismatic leader within many of the world’s religions.8. Stories of life in polygamous households often deal with the appropriation of children by senior wives. This often results in the emotional devastation of the birth mother, but Hammer’s second wife Ruth gives her babies over to Mother Hammer with little or no complaint. Why do you think she does this? What does Ruth value most in life?9. Lal is a monster of sorts–how did he get this way? What does he need that he’s not getting, and where does he go wrong in his attempts to fulfill that need?10. Dorrie’s memory of the massacre is buried deep within, accessible only through a series of dreams that begin when Hammer brings her the family of wolves. Why do you think she dreams through the eyes of a crow, and what is the effect of this unusual point of view?11. Given its setting of mid nineteenth-century Utah, Effigy can be read as a kind of Western. In what ways does the novel fit into the Western tradition, and in what ways does it depart from the classic form?12. Are the themes and issues addressed in Effigy still relevant today? For a start, give some thought to the following: questions of power balance within families; attitudes toward animals and nature in general; living conditions of indigenous peoples the world over; examples of sectarian hatred and violence.

Editorial Reviews

“A small masterpiece. . . . Exhilarating and genuinely fresh.” —National Post“York’s writing is graphic and impressionistic, sharp-edged and sensual. Though both style and landscape at times bring to mind Annie Dillard and Cormac McCarthy, York’s voice is very much her own.” —Quill & Quire“York’s mesmerizing tale is rich in historical detail and driven by a cast of deftly drawn and perfectly memorable characters ... A wonderful book.”—Lori Lansens"Alissa York's Effigy is a historical fiction almost frighteningly real. Her creation of Erastus Hammer’s four wives and complex household in frontier Utah is so precise and convincing, and allows the reader so entirely and readily inside, that the only uncertainty is how to get back to the present again. This is a rewarding read. Don’t miss it."—Fred Stenson