EFFIGY by Alissa York (Random House), 428 pages. $32.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN
You can see why the Giller jury loved Effigy. It's got rich historical detail, deep research that literary panels lap up and an ethnic tilt, in this case, a setting inside a Mormon family.
But it's also got some powerful characters. Greedy Erastus has taken four wives, one for each of his needs. Ursula, wife one, runs the household; Ruth, wife two, bears the brood; Thankful, wife three, is his favourite fuck; and Dorrie, wife four, is an expert taxidermist who stuffs his hunting trophies.
There are also some other guys in the picture, including Erastus's eldest son, sniffing around the women.
In the background is a shameful historical incident, a massacre of settlers at the hands of Mormons and Pauites, that has leached the household of any moral fibre, even as most of its members remain hugely industrious.
We can empathize with Ursula at not having to worry about sex with Erastus once Thankful crosses the threshold, but Effigy doesn't evoke easy emotions. Ursula's also jealous and tyrannical. Dorrie's preoccupation with stuffing animals can be as distressing as Erastus's pleasure in the kill.
And this peek at life in a polygamous household is fascinating even if you feel just a little bit dirty as you're reading it.
York's prose is vivid and sensual, and as characters appear who might change the fate of all the women, the narrative develops tension that keeps you hurtling toward the finish line. This is a good thing because Effigy is long and takes a while to get going.
York joins Elizabeth Hay, Michael Ondaatje, Daniel Poliquin and M.G. Vassanji on the Giller shortlist.
The prizewinner is announced Tuesday (November 6).