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Yannick Murphy’s “The Call”

I came across “The Call” by Yannick Murphy in a “best of the year” sort of list. It’s a novel about a New England veterinarian whose son is shot while hunting.

It’s format was a tad off-putting to me at first. It’s told as if in notes regarding the calls that the veterinarians receives. For instance, from page one:

Call: A cow with her dead calf halfborn.
Action: Put on boots and pulled dead calf out while standing in a field full of mud.
Result: Hind legs tore off from dead calf while I pulled. Head, forelegs, and torso are still inside the mother.
Thoughts on Drive Home While Passing Red and Gold Leaves on Maple Trees: Is there a nicer place to live?

Once I got used to the rhythm of the format, I enjoyed the story, and even began to like the distance that this structure provided. The entries are a mix of mundane, emotional, wry, and intense. When the veterinarian’s son is shot, the format keeps the action from being overwhelming, somehow. The obsession he develops for learning who shot his son is entirely believable, even as it mixes in to his wry observations about the households and animals he visits. Events turn once again when a young man shows up who is his son, via a sperm donation he made in his college days.

The one quibble I have is that when the son must be in the hospital following the shooting, I felt an inadequate connection to everything medical–all of the decisions, the instruments, the machinery, the weirdness of time in the hospital. His thoughts didn’t leave his son often, but I didn’t sense the way that a hospital often becomes a family’s hearth when a child is in a coma.

Looking back on this story, it strikes me as “old fashioned” in these ways–the veterinarian is someone who wants to be a good man. He loves his family. He works hard. He’s a regular guy. The things that happen could happen to anyone. They shake him up. He does a few silly things, but all in all, he behaves in ways that make perfect sense, and that underscore a basic decency about him. His ability always to see something a little differently and often without judgment, to find humor and happy irony, create a distinctive tone. And make a clear contrast with his focus on the shooter.

I’ll recommend this to people as a quirky but satisfying read. It probably requires a slightly quirky reader, too, but I predict that once people get accustomed to the rhythm of the language, they will take to the people and the place.

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