The reality we have found ourselves recently due to the Covid-19 outbreak has vaulted our minds into trying to deal with concerns and anxieties. With the news blaring in the background, we stare out from the windows – or from behind our masks – and wonder how we suppose to deal with the new world. And that is the type of reality that Mark Sampson has his protagonist Hector Thompson try to deal with with his new novel All The Animals On Earth.
Page 20 – “Part 1: The Accident”
Afterwards, I faced the drive home. The city seemed darker, more ominous, as I passed through the core of its concrete thoroughfares. I arrived back at our high-rise condo building and parked with jittery precision in out assigned space in the underground lot. Then I rode our elevator, a sleek and silent room of mirrors, up to our ninth-floor unit. Unlocking the door with my Google Watch, I stepped inside our huge, spacious domain. To the left of our front entry was our master bedroom, spare bedroom, bathroom. To the right, out den and the alcove for our washer-dryer. In front of me, out sunken living room, and beyond it, our large kitchen next to our dining area overlooking glass doors leading our balcony, which in turn overlooked the dull, grim skyline of out city and the lake beyond it, now hidden by the night.
Morgana was sitting on the couch in the living room watching TV, he face in profile to me. The jumping light from the screen cast silvery shimmers across her dark, kinky hair. She had a hand cupped to her mouth.
“I did it,” I said with exuberance. “I drove the car! Things got a bit dicey a four-way flash at Dufferin, but I perserv-“
She turned to me then, and I could see that her eyes were full of horror.
“Morgana, what is it?”
She extended her hand in a gesture that said, Come sit with me. Which I did. We turned and faced the TV together.
Sampson has this perfect gift of taking elements of the human condition and weaving them into a narrative that is both enjoyable and enlightening to read. And reading this book during this time is comforting. “A lot of people, especially here in the so-called “West,” are dealing with things they’ve never had to deal with before – not being able to go wherever they want, facing empty supermarket shelves, living with fear for their safety on a daily basis. (Others, obviously, have experienced these things every moment of their lives)” he told me in a Q&A last spring as this book went to press. The story surrounds Hector Thompson, a quiet and happily-married human resources manager for a small insurance firm. He is content with his life and his existence and any disruption brings him discomfort. (“When I was working as a journalist in Australia 15 years ago, I did have, as my “beat,” the topic of human resources, industrial relations, and occupational health and safety. So I spent a lot of time interviewing HR managers back then, talking to them about hiring, firing, talent retention, benefits and compensation, plus awkward conversations they often need to have with staff about wardrobe choices and personal hygiene, etc,” Sampson told me in the same Q&A) So when the television starts burbling about ‘pullution’ turning the animals of the world into ‘blomers’ – sentient beings with some human traits but still retain some of their original animalistic wants and characteristics – Thompson is vaulted into a realm of unease and discomfort that perfectly reflects our times.
The blomers were changing out society, there was no doubt about that now. It wasn’t just the way we had all normalized their (very) public acts of carnality. Nor was it the ubiquitous sight of their exaggerated features we’d spot on every street corner and in every subway car, the broad brows and bad teeth, the thick fleshy hands that reached out for ours in rehearsed politeness. It wasn’t just the hawks who had penetrated the upper echelons every night on TV, or the dogs who filled our skylines (and, now, our suburbs and farm fields) with condo and office towers. No. Changes in mentality were everywhere, too. We vips could not escape them. We could not flee from their designs for us, the way they seemed to erupt out of the very ground we walked on. Every headline in the paper or on the web jolted us in shock. Every minute of CNN felt like it introduced a new fresh hell.
This book is a perfect mixture of humor and stark emotion to make it an enlightening read which reflects our times right now. Reading it – and turning off the TV and the Internet – feels like it gives a bit of perspective to our situation right now. We are not alone with our fears and dreads and if Hector Thompson can deal with his changes in his rushed reality, perhaps we can too.
When you’re as obsessive as I am, it’s very hard to let things go.
I knew I needed a break. I knew I was, as Brennan Prate had put it, dropping balls. I was losing my grip. I also knew that this place wouldn’t necessarily fall apart without me. With whole squads of chickens and goats (not to mention two cats and a pigeon, God bless her taut, analytical mind) working under me, the Human Resources – check that, Human Capital – Department would not collapse if I took a short sabbatical from the company. But it was very hard to let things go. It was hard to admit that I had a problem, that something fundamental about me had changed. I wasn’t normally a bitter person. I rarely dwelled in the darker corners of human nature. But every time my mind conjured images of that dying gopher, that herm, clasping their quavering, blood-damp hand to mine as they took their final breaths, I would grow overcome with acrimony. I would see my blomer colleagues as the potential murderers they were and my fellow vips as the accomplices who blithely ignored it all. It felt as if the entire structure of this post-pullulation reality, what everyone had come to accept, needed to be torn down, but I also felt powerless, utterly impotent, to do it myself.
Mark Sampson has once again created a brilliant piece of literature with his novel All The Animals on Earth. The story truly reflects the fears and the angst of this time during Covid-19, giving us something truly something note and think about.