I actually bought this book years ago for a friend who had just decided to become a vegetarian. I told this to the bookseller as I was purchasing it and he just looked at me and said, “yeah, this book will do it.”
Now, I know reading someone else’s book is like wearing a shirt you bought them for their birthday and then giving it to them anyways, but stories are meant to be shared, right? So I started reading it on the bus. And next thing you know I’m on the last chapter, with a huge lump in my throat.
Fast-forward 3 years. When asked what my favourite book is, this one usually comes to mind. Not because it’s my favourite story necessarily, but because it really resonated.
At first, Animals reads like a historical account (it even has footnotes) and then blends into a heart-wrenching story about a deaf boy named Sam in a dystopian future where a “great extinction” has wiped out all species of livestock people previously consumed for food. LePan starts with the facts of factory farming today and then creates a chronological turn of events that leads into the book’s present day – about 100 years into the future.
The implications of Sam’s disability are extreme since in this future, human ethics have disintegrated to the point where those born with any kind of imperfection are considered “mongrels” rather than humans. Some become household pets for families, while others are bred in captivity and used as a replacement food source for humans. Because of Sam’s inability to speak and understand like his brothers and sisters, he appears seemingly underdeveloped and is denigrated to a “mongrel”. His fork and knife is taken from him and his dinner plate moved from the table and placed onto the floor.
I needed to find a copy myself but when I googled for it, all I found was a different version, definitely not like I remembered. This painfully literal cover of forks and knives and a meaty-looking title stared at me, and I thought that is so incredibly wrong. See, not only did the story itself come to mind, but the cover image as well. The white and blue shattered porcelain that suggests both simplicity and disturbance. I think it’s striking and beautiful and this American edition looks more like a protein-heavy cookbook. (sorry, Soft Skull Press!)
The phenomenal folks at Vehicule Press hooked me up with their Canadian edition and now my bookshelf and I are quite content. I love the look of Vehicule Press’s books. They are always so clean and simple, yet distinctive in both colour and image choices. They don’t give away a story, but compliment and interpret it in a deliberately stylish way.
Animals is a worst-case scenario that is so artfully convincing, it will give you no choice but to feel something for Sam, his family, and the state of the world they live in. This is dystopian literature at it’s scariest, though LePan is able to develop his story with subtlety that suggests rather than exploits the morally gruesome world he describes. When LePan replaces the experiences of livestock with a human boy, he gives a face, a voice and a story to the practices of cruel factory farming. A thinly veiled criticism on the factory farming industry, Animals projects that all things, whether human or animal deserves to be respected.
I’m not a vegetarian, nor do I plan to be, but I definitely responded to this book with a reflection and consciousness of the ways in which human perception can be skewed.
Animals by Don LePan
Vehicule Press, 2009
Jacket Design: David Drummond