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3.29  ·  Rating Details ·  341 Ratings  ·  56 Reviews
A stunning novel of loss, memory, despair and deliverance by one of Canada’s best young fiction writers, set on a Mormon ranch in nineteenth-century Utah.

Dorrie, a shock-pale child with a mass of untameable black hair, cannot recall anything of her life before she recovered from an illness at seven. A solitary child, she spends her spare time learning the art of taxidermy,
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published April 3rd 2007 by Random House Canada (first published 2007)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Jan 05, 2009 Shane rated it liked it
I started this book at the 5 star level and then wound my way down to 2 stars, ending at 3 because the ending somewhat rescued the book for me. The prose is indirect, poetic and oblique and you have to strain not to miss a cue, which I did not mind, but the fractured shifting of viewpoints irritated me after awhile, especially when many of the characters' back-stories had to be accounted for. I began to lose track of who's back story was who's, until they all came full circle and the present sto ...more
Jan 02, 2009 Marie rated it really liked it
Pulled me right in, entranced me, kept me hooked until the last page. Sorry to close it. Innovative structure and beautiful visuals. A reminder of not only how history is woven togther by the differing players. Women do what they have to in order to survive in unforgiving times that allowed them little lattitude for survival. Easy to type-cast the characters until York reveals them in slow, painful layers, so subtly.
Cathy Buchanan
Mar 23, 2017 Cathy Buchanan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-i-love
Inspired by the real events of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, Effigy is set on a Mormon ranch in 19th C Utah. Masterfully told from the points of view of the wives (yes, wives!) of a polygamous house breeder, this fascinating tale haunted me in just the way I love.
Bryn Greenwood
Feb 12, 2009 Bryn Greenwood rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This was an intensely pleasurable read, full of great characterizations and subtle story-telling. Historically, the tone is spot-on 19th century Utah, but under that is a layer of the fantastical that gives even the mundane a richness beyond your usual historical fiction. Polygamy, obsessive taxidermy, small changeling child-bride taxidermist, forbidden lust, dark and shameful secrets, pioneer lingerie, and a contortionist named Bendy. Looking forward to reading it again.
Jun 26, 2008 Brittany rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Mormons, People who like literary fiction
How I Came To Read This Book: I believe I received a free copy of it by a random draw after filling out a survey...years ago.

The Plot: The present day of the story takes place in 1867, on a Mormon ranch in Utah. Erastus Hammer has four wives - the first, Ursula, a striking woman that gave her heart to the church long before she gave into Hammer, and now rules over the home with an iron will after her first and only son robbed her of being able to give life again. The second, Ruth, a complacent
Apr 18, 2009 liz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary, historical
I haven't exactly been crazy about a couple of books I've recently read, so you can imagine how stoked I was when I picked this up at the library. "It's about Mormons, on the frontier, and the last wife loves taxidermy?! Count me in!!" I was not disappointed.

And really, you don't need to know much more than that. The author may be Canadian, but it takes place on the American frontier, shortly after the Civil War. The fourth wife is new to the enormous family, they live on a farm, there's all kin
Jan 11, 2011 Kyla rated it it was ok
I started this book but never finished it. While it wasn't really bad, it never drew me in enough to keep my interest. When I read that it was a historical novel about polygamy and taxidermy, but the writing turned me off. It never develops a real sense of place nor a feeling that it's really going anywhere. I was also quite put off by the cast of "magical" characters. Almost every character is preternaturally good at something: one makes amazingly lifelike taxidermy mounts, another can twist hi ...more
Jul 26, 2011 Mike rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was like a wine with too much happening on the palate. Overwhelming. York has tried to be symbolic, deep, and meaningful. What she's forgotten is to be a story-teller. Her profusion of characters and her penchant for flashbacks and dream sequences, took away from some interesting situations with Bendy and Dorrie. Keep it simple. I've read other complex fiction, but those books didn't feel like I was being diverted and detoured needlessly, way off the beaten path. Kudos for the idea of ...more
Aug 31, 2011 Sharon rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-star
I read this a few years ago and remember it as a dark and complex book, full of strange, and in some cases, terrible, people, lurking dreams, evil, but nevertheless, infused with a deep humanity. Set in the aftermath of the darkest episode in Mormon History, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, it’s an historical novel about homesteading, polygamy, and four extremely interesting wives. One’s a taxidermist. One raises silk worms. Really well researched, I think it’s a masterpiece. Should have won somet ...more
Nov 18, 2008 April rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. It was hard to put down but took awhile to read. The story skips around and at times was a little hard to follow but it all came together nicely in the end. I enjoyed the historical aspects and the character development. The whole story was well woven.
May 04, 2017 Lorraine rated it really liked it
"Effigy" is a very compelling read. The characters are so intensely drawn I could visualize them all so clearly as the story unfolds.

Based around the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857, Alissa York tells the story of a polygamous family headed by Erastus Hammer living in Utah territory. She examines a very unique set of sister wives and their roles within this very strange family. There is Mother Hammer (Ursula), first wife of Erastus, whose love of the Mormon religion's founder John Smith is bey
May 14, 2017 Kirstin rated it did not like it
So boring. I kept reading because I thought that it would go somewhere, but it didn't.
Dec 08, 2011 Angela rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed
After closing the book, what stays with me is the mood, dark and strange, as well as the impression that the author must have done a lot of research to write this book. York writes beautifully and I was drawn in every time I sat down to read. She builds up a sense of dread and mystery, keeping the reader searching for clues. I was also impressed by her knowledge of: Mormon history, the San Francisco gold rush, the fundamentals of taxidermy, the care and feeding of silk caterpillars, the frontier ...more
Dana Burgess
May 22, 2011 Dana Burgess rated it it was ok
While cruising the stacks at the local library, I ran across 'Effigy' by Alissa York. I was immediately drawn to the cover and pleased to see it was a Giller Prize finalist. Historical fiction - inspired by the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857; and polygamy - very interesting subject; throw in a little weirdness with the fourth wife who spends all of her time in the barn practicing the art of taxidermy and it all should add up to a compelling read. (For those of you who commented on my Tuesday ...more
Ruth Walker
Aug 15, 2013 Ruth Walker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Strange and compelling, "Effigy" is a complicated, multi-POV tale of secrets, longings and compulsions. Set in a western US Mormon community in the 1800s, I especially enjoyed this glimpse into a polygamous family life within a well-drawn historical context. I expect Alissa York did a massive amount of research and it shows.

Complex characters with strange motivations are, for the most part, well-drawn (I mixed up a couple of the sister wives at one point but given the book's themes of women and
Jul 28, 2013 Mike rated it really liked it
Shelves: ideas, women, humanity
This is an historic novel set in Utah in 1870ish when Mormons were pretty much settled. It provides some of the earlier history of the Mormons and also some about the California gold rush. The story features 7 main characters, all interesting and all facing different challenges. The Mormon husband a keen hunter has failing eyesight, and must try to maintain peace with and among his 4 wives. His 19 year old son frustrated that the powerful Mormon males were marrying all the young women. (polygamy ...more
Jun 24, 2016 Ari rated it did not like it
"Didn't enjoy it"

I had high hope for this book as a finalist for the Giller Prize, ended up feeling very disappointed and discontinued reading after much struggle. The storytelling was quite confusing from the beginning, I was lost as to the names and characteristics of the various characters from the start. There might be some treasure in this book, but sadly my struggle was terminated before my reaching any of it. Sorry to say this might be an example of award-winning status not matching publi
Trevor Nicholson
Apr 30, 2013 Trevor Nicholson rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2013
Slow and boring. I tried so hard to read it, even though every time I tried I started to doze off on the train because it is not interesting at all. It's very pretty and poetic in creating the scene, but I really don't care. After 15 boring chapters of nothingness, I finally quit. I've tried twice now, but it's just not happening. I'm sure it's a good book for some people, but it's not my cup of tea. Reading should be enjoyable and this book felt like a chore to just get it over with. I have to ...more
May 20, 2011 Alexis added it
I wasn't sure if I was going to finish this book the first time I started reading it but I'm glad I did. York writes in a very indirectly, she has this way of combining images in unique and strange ways that I really like. Her prose are like little puzzles I had to pause over and work out - what does a rat look like when it "squirts" out of a bush? That phrase stuck with me because it there was such an initial disconnect for me between what she is describing and how she is describing it, a wet w ...more
Jun 10, 2012 Sarah rated it did not like it
This book was not great. While it was easy enough to read, the characters were all overdone. Another reviewer has commented that each one was an expert in something, which is unbelievable in a large cast of characters like this and I agree. There was also some really weird social and sexual behaviour. The biggest negative for me was that there wasn't one person who believed their faith, or had a strong conviction about being a part of a 'church' that was considered completely unacceptable by the ...more
Terra Wolski
Jun 07, 2014 Terra Wolski rated it liked it
This for me would be around 2 or 3 stars... It makes me want to learn more of the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857 because I have never heard of it before. I found it quite confusing - how she kept jumping around to the characters back history - it was hard for me to keep track of who she was referring to BUT.. when it comes to the writing I give her 5 stars... What a wonderful use of words!! it was beautifully written - even if I had to reread a bunch of it to understand what she was describin ...more
Jan 28, 2013 Dhali rated it it was ok
I have very mixed feeling about this book. York writes poetic, somewhat dream-like prose but there's distance in it so I never got to feel or care about any of the characters. The characters themselves were such a mix of odd skills, quirks and foibles that they never felt like real people. Overall I found the book tried too hard; there were too many POVs (including that of a crow), too many back stories, too many flashbacks and letters from dying mothers, too much history... and not enough story ...more
Sarah Bezan
Oct 25, 2015 Sarah Bezan rated it liked it
Inspired by the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857, York's novel is an imaginative and compelling narrative of familial ties, human and animal loss, preservation, and indigenous-settler relations. The lead female protagonist, Dorrie, practices taxidermy and dreams of the day her family was killed upon the plains of Utah, while her other sister-wives raise their children to follow the central tenets of the Mormon faith. Includes an interesting and diverse cast of characters.
Carly Svamvour
Jan 12, 2011 Carly Svamvour marked it as to-read
I'm sure if I was in the zone for reading intensely written books, with a lot of poetics in every line, I would have persevered with it.

I have given it a 4, and will leave it same, as I do think it's a fairly good book - just isn't for me at this time. Too tedious - takes a while to read and figure out some of the phrases and comments - they're kinda' tricky.

Have to stop every few paragraphs and wonder what the heck she was really saying.

Dec 29, 2013 Cindy rated it it was amazing
York parcels out her story slowly, building the tension all the way to the final paragraph, yet she never loses the reader. It is compelling fiction set against historical events, and York takes care to bring every oddball character to life, from the polygamist horse trader and his jealous wives to the contortionist horse whisperer who comes aboard. Any author who can make taxidermy so interesting deserves credit.
May 26, 2009 Brooke rated it it was ok
This book was really for me. It was filled with a cast of stange people which I usually like, but these people weren't quirky, they were just plain weird. I had a really hard time switching from points of view, it was way too all over the place. I also felt like it didn't draw all the characters together in one cohesive line. Over all a weird book that I probably wouldn't reccomend to anyone!
Jun 24, 2012 Claire rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club
Book club


This is the second 'western' that I read. I was captivated by the settings, the way of life. The details are important. It is time-standing-still where a pursuit is not a matter of minutes but of days. The main character is not overly brilliant -- she is simply a women during the rush trying to escape.
Mar 06, 2008 Catherine rated it liked it
Recommends it for: some
This is an interesting but dark and moody book about a family of Saints and in particular about the fourth wife. She is a young woman who does taxidermy! You get history about the Mormons and maybe some insight into life and family dynamics. Though it is dark I will read it to the end because the topic and characters are interesting.
Sue Lunt
It took me a while to get into this book and I almost felt like the reader would need some background knowledge of early LDS history and of the Mountain Meadows horrors, I think without that, I would not have been likely to keep reading. I didn't think it was a bad book. Just sad. It's a story about a lot of sad people living in a sad situation.
Jun 05, 2011 Sheila rated it really liked it
A book about Mormons in Utah, in the 1860's. This novel chronicles the disintegration of a family consisting of Erastus Hammer an his four wives. The background stories of the wives were quite compelling; I was particularly drawn in by the story of the youngest wife, who is only 14 years old, and develops an interest in taxidermy. The shifting perspectives added depth to the novel.
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Born in 1970, Alissa York has lived all over Canada and now makes her home in Toronto with her husband, writer/filmmaker Clive Holden.

York's award-winning short fiction has appeared in various literary journals and anthologies, and in the collection, Any Given Power, published by Arbeiter Ring Publishing in 1999. Her first novel, Mercy, published by Random House Canada in 2003, was a Canadian best
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