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Monthly Archives: December 2009

The White Bone – Barbara Gowdy

Catch of the Day

The White Bone

By: Barbara Gowdy
I’d picked this book up off the shelf at the library a dozen times and put it back. I even checked it out twice. But I never got past the fact it was about elephants. How could a book told from the point of view of elephants possible enter my realm of interest?
I did finally open the book. I went with it. It is brilliant. Not just because it is a fairly original concept-it tells the story of the elephants’ fight to survive a drought, and death from vicious poachers, from the point of view of the elephants. It is one of a kind, with a map and a glossary to guide you through the lives and language of the descendants of the great She. But it doesn’t take long until you can feel heat on your skin and the spray of dirt that cools it. Your mouth will crave just a drop of water in the arid desert. You will feel the loss of mothers and children to poachers as deeply as the elephants do.
Gowdy evokes as much sadness from a story of elephants’ unrequited love as any human-based story I have ever read. I knew she had me when the descriptions of bull elephants in musth and cows entering their “delerium” had me rooting for consummation-these are animals for Pete’s sake!
The story is a journey, to find water, to find shade, yes, but to find family, to reach safety, too.
I never really wondered what elephants or cheetahs or eagles thought before, but Gowdy has created a completely believable world where these animals are just like us. She has taught a lesson, that we need to be more aware of our actions, not just toward four-legged creatures, but also to the creatures-humans-that live across the street from us. This book exposes cruelty in all forms.
If you have read any of Barbara Gowdy’s books, you know she is an original. When you are done The White Bone, read The Romantic, or We So Seldom Look on Love. Be forewarned. Much of her writing is not for the faint of heart (Helpless is about the stalking and abduction of a child) but she has a wicked talent for taking those uncomfortable moments we turn away from and waving them in our faces, stamping her foot, daring us to face the ugly parts of our society, of ourselves.