Animals is a thought-provoking tale that takes place in the twenty-second century, long after the mass extinction of most nonhuman animals.
The novel follows a human child named Sam who is disabled and therefore, is considered inferior and deemed a mongrel. We follow Sam from his original family and his loving, but working poor, single mother's home to his newly adopted home with Naomi, a brave, young girl who sees Sam as more than just the family pet and takes him under her wing.
Animals is a great achievement as it intricately combines two fictional manuscripts written in the future by Naomi and Broderick Clark, Sam's oldest brother. Clark interjects throughout to explain how things used to be before there were mongrels.
Even though Animals is a work of fiction, LePan shows what life is really like for billions of nonhumans today by skillfully illustrating, via a futuristic lens, similar experiences through another species.
Animals is for anyone who treasures a good narrative and the evolution of characters as they experience crises of morality and conscience. I thoroughly enjoyed the story of Sam, the extraordinary relationship he develops with Naomi, and their emotional and trying experiences as they contend with the limitations of the adults in their lives.
LePan has given us an engrossing tale that questions the way humans determine moral value based on false dichotomies. Readers will need a little patience, however, as the story line unfolds somewhat slowly due to the book's unique structure and Clark's footnotes toggling between the past and future, which makes for choppy reading. It's not until the reader is fully submersed in the growing but tenuous relationship between Naomi and Sam that the drama really begins to pick up steam.
If his aim was to raise people's consciousness about the persons they eat, I think LePan achieved his goal stupendously. Though he seems to conclude that eating products derived from nonhuman beings is wrong,—
"We treat them purely as food, . . . as things to be eaten, as things to be tortured if that will make the milk and flesh and eggs cheaper or tastier" (LePan, p. 159).—LePan takes a disappointingly welfarist slant in the "Author's Afterword" and concedes that he is not vegan despite his novel's vegan bent. Still, Animals is a laudable piece of writing notwithstanding its author's personal shortcomings.
Likewise, I think readers will be surprised to learn that Michel Faber, author of Under the Skin, is admittedly not a vegan since he also incorporates the evil reality of meat production into his suspenseful and unsettling fable.
Under the Skin is a fast-paced thriller following Isserley, a Vess Industries employee, around the Scottish Highlands as she goes trolling for hitchhikers (vodsels) to bring back to the farm where she lives.
Having relocated after being discarded by the Elite, Isserley is forced to adapt a skewed human form to survive and fulfill her responsibilities for Vess Industries.
Exhausted and lonely, she grows weary performing her perfunctory duties and airs her grievances to a visiting Amlis Vess, heir to the company. Much to her surprise, Amlis disapproves of his father's work and takes an interest in Isserley, attempting to break through her bitterness and indifference.
" 'All I'm trying to get across to you,' he [Amlis] persisted, nettled, 'is that the meat you we're eating a few minutes ago is the same meat that is trying to communicate with us down here' " (Faber, p. 185).If Under the Skin is anything, it is an irresistible and unusual suspense story that you don't want to put down but, thankfully, it is so much more than that.
There are a lot of similarities between Animals and Under the Skin. Both are gripping tales centered on morality and compassion, and both tactfully address cultural notions of classism, sexism, and speciesism. The authors' titles also communicate oneness (Under the Skin we're all Animals) in contrast to the epithets used to display otherness and the commodification of their characters (mongrels and vodsels).
As with the exploited mongrels in Animals, the vodsels Isserley targets in Under the Skin are dysfunctional and marginalized, nevertheless both authors ask us to identify with others, and they elicit sympathy for victims and perpetrators alike, irrespective of species. Is it easier to relate to a female alien who has little hope in her future or the violent human traveler she picks up, a deaf mongrel child or a broken human mother who feels forced to abandon him, a frightened cow who despairs over what she sees awaiting her on the kill line or the impoverished human slaughterhouse knocker who will take her life?
Whether intentionally or not, both LePan and Faber deftly used satire and allegory to examine universal exploitation and our senseless and automatic consumption of nonhumans. While both novels are works of fiction, they reiterate prevailing egregious truths: in our reduction of others as inferior, we selfishly preserve cruelty and injustice and only end up hurting ourselves.
Animals and Under the Skin are strong in their captivating characters and poignant storytelling, and raise challenging and thoughtful questions. Some may find these two dystopian portrayals to be dark and pessimistic, but they are fair presentations, no more painful and frightening than our current dystopian world.
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