August 16, 2017

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Rebellious critters rule future Canada

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/10/2016 (313 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Minted won’t become an international bestseller. It won’t top the New York Times list, won’t lead Amazon’s fiction sales, won’t win the Man Booker Prize.

If you’re not profoundly, tremendously Canadian, you won’t get it. Although even if you are Canadian to the core, you still might not get this bizarre, fast-paced dystopian hallucination.

Will McClelland’s debut novel tells the story behind the scenes of the Canadian Animal Rebellion of 2031.

Our narrator is Nicholas A. Cibiades, a former professor, high-tech worker and lay minister who, grieving the losses of his wife and son, takes to the wilderness to commit suicide — but instead encounters a talking moose on the eve of a series of wildlife terrorist attacks on Canada’s urban dwellers.

The tale is told by turns through memoir and reproduction of "primary documents," journals and letters of our narrator and two key figures in the rebellion: Original, a charismatic talking moose, and Original’s android girlfriend/collaborator. Their stories unfold with footnotes detailing relevant points of moose anatomy, historical notes and colour plates illustrating animals found on Canadian currency.

Why the animals on Canadian currency? Here’s where things get weird.

The book’s villains are symbols, brought to life: Argent and Gules, man and monster, demons as old as time and the red and white of the Canadian flag. They’ve captured and enslaved the animals that appear on Canadian money, known as "the Minted."

The loon, the polar bear, the beaver — they are locked beneath the Mint in Ottawa, "responsible for the rolling, softening, blanking, rimming and washing of their respective coins." (The caribou is also responsible for the dime and now-defunct penny.)

The menagerie isn’t limited to small change: the belted kingfisher that graced the 1986 five-dollar bill makes an appearance, as does the mackerel from the 1967 dime. Even Queen Elizabeth II toils in the Mint.

The moose exhorts Canada’s remaining free wild animals to "save the North from the Canadians." And they do: "These attacks came without warning and were perpetrated by a suddenly ubiquitous enemy: raccoons, chipmunks, porcupines, pigeons, coyotes, wolves, deer, birds of prey — the list goes on — all acting with unimaginable coordination and violence."

McLelland’s imaginative descriptions of the destruction of Canadian cities by their wildlife — Toronto set upon by hundreds of thousands of raccoons, Regina smothered by cottontail rabbits, Winnipeg overrun by Narcisse’s garter snakes — are perhaps the most lucid parts of the book.

Add in android-moose intimacy and an autonomous army of mechanized elk, and… surreal begins to describe it.

The slim volume is a quick read and a page-turner: the reader can’t help but press on to discover what curiosities await on this chimerical cross-country ride with stops in Vancouver, the Athabasca sand dunes, Flin Flon’s airport, the streets of Gander, N.L., and, of course, a final showdown in Ottawa.

It’s a Canadian encyclopedia of history and oddities, with references to Hinterland Who’s Who, the fur trade, the Dionne quintuplets. "Certainly everyone remembers Don Cherry and his Second World War tank confronting that lone raccoon protester in Nathan Phillips Square."

The book’s one major flaw: no mention of Winnipeg’s Royal Canadian Mint, where Canadian coins are actually manufactured. Perhaps that’s an oversight only a profound, tremendous Winnipegger would see.

 

Wendy Sawatzky is associate editor digital news for winnipegfreepress.com and commander-in-chief at wendysawatzky.com.

Read more reviewed by Wendy Sawatzky.

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