Quill & Quire Review - Anatomy of Edouard Beaupre
Reviewed by: Sarah Greene
First-time novelist Sarah Kathryn York chose an unusal format for her book about Edouard Beaupré, also known as the Willow Bunch Giant, a Canadian from a small community in Southern Saskatchewan who succumbed to tuberculosis at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis when he was only 23 years old. At the itme, Edouard was over eight-foot-three, and still growing.
The book's 206 pages correspond to the number of bones in the human body. The narrator, a radiographer at the University of Montreal in the early 1950s, drops that fact early on, emphasiing the anatomy of the book itself. Each chapter is named after a body part: bones, nose, fists, hair, and eyes. The narrator, conscious of his own impending mortality, initially focuses on measuring and preserving Edouard's body, but realizes that he is more passionate about the man's life story than his remarkable fram,e which resulted from a pituitary tumour.
York gives us Edouard's history as a series of linked stories rather than one uninterrupted narrative. Half Métis and halfe Québécois, he literally outgrows his dream of becoming a cowboy and seeks a career as a strongman and performer at sideshows and circuses. Though something of a celebrity, he is lonely and homesick and turns to alcohol for comfort. Edouard's managers betray his trust by exploiting him financially, and ultimately betray him in death by continuing to display his outsized corpse (Edouard's family could not afford to transport him for burial).
Despite this cruelty and tragedy, York manages to convey more magic and wonder than sadness, using biographical and historical research to recreate the lives of marginalized people like ranch hands, retired fighters, and circus freaks. She portrays Edouard as gentle, shy, handsome, and multilingual, and more intelligent than contemporary journalists gave him credit for being.
What is the relationship between the body and the life lived? And why are simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by people who are exceptionally different from us? York raises these questions while encouraging the reader to imagine Edouard's story from his own unique perspective. No small feat.