Enter the Aardvark

Jessica Anthony. Little, Brown, $26 (192p) ISBN 978-0-316-53613-4
Anthony (The Convalescent) stitches together stories from repressive Victorian England and venal contemporary American politics in this marvelous, tragic farce populated by characters uncomfortable in their own skin. In Namibia, 1875, naturalist Sir Richard Ostet sends an aardvark specimen back to England to be stuffed by his friend and love interest, taxidermist Titus Downing, whose unparalleled creations are famed for how the artist captures each animal’s jiva, or the “immortal life-essence of each living being.” After Downing’s uncanny aardvark shows up on the doorstep of U.S. Congressman Alexander Paine Wilson in present-day D.C., the press digs into its past owners, including Hermann Goring’s father, and its presumed sender, Wilson’s secret male lover, triggering a career-threatening scandal for Wilson, an ambitious, Ronald Reagan–obsessed Republican who proudly wields a “0” rating from the ACLU. Anthony alternates between the congressman’s travails and Downing’s taxidermic preparations, which reveal the hidden beauty within the creature’s “appalling morphology.” While the overly broad satirical portrait of Wilson detracts from his plotline’s emotional resonance, the novel’s smooth comic machinery builds toward a satisfying climax that reveals how the aardvark’s history bears on the congressman’s present. This idiosyncratic satire is full of wonders and warnings. Agent: Jim Rutman, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Mar.)
Reviewed on : 11/21/2019
Genre: Fiction
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