Those of you who enjoy bacon for breakfast may not want to read Martha Grimes’ lastest book, Dakota. Part novel, part animal rights manifesto, the book takes up the story of Andi Oliver, a character we first met in Biting the Moon. Andi, an ethereal young woman of about 20, remembers nothing of her life before she woke up in a Santa Fe motel room two years ago. She makes up stories about her past and goes about her business saving the animals of the world.
In Dakota, Andi gets a job at a factory hog farm. The graphic descriptions of conditions there and the treatment of the pigs might well put you right off your ham sandwich. Grimes lays on the horror so thick it slows down the story. “I get it, Martha,” I muttered. “What happens next?”
What makes Andi interesting is that her lack of memories gives her a child-like view of the world, without the usual conceptions about the relative importance of humans. She feels the pain of every suffering beast so keenly that her insistence on being around them seems nearly sacrificial. In fact the whole book is so rife with symbolism it ought to weigh hundreds of pounds. It was exhausting to read.
To add to my sad story load for the week, today I took my daughter to see an exhibit by World Vision about AIDS in Africa.
It’s an elaborate and creative set-up, not so much an exhibit as an experience. You play the part of an African child and, guided by an audio narrative, walk through the child’s village and life. There are four children, each with their own path. Tigger went through a second time to experience a different child.
It was moving and powerful, and I highly recommend it. The exhibit is traveling around the country. Check the web site to see if it’s coming to your town.
Fair warning: World Vision is a Christian organization and the narrative has a strongly religious element to it. In the story I followed, a young girl’s mother has AIDS and is very sick for months, leaving the girl and her sister alone on the streets. Later the mom comes back in much better health. The narrative credits her newfound Christian faith for her improvement, with only a brief mention of the anti-retroviral medication she’s taking. (In fact, friends, the drugs work for heathens too.) So it raised my hackles a little, but given the good being done by organizations like World Vision, I’m letting it pass. And the exhibit is very cool. Go see it if you get a chance.