PagesandPatches.blogspot.ca Review - Anatomy of Edouard Beaupre
Reviewed by: Devin Pacholik
There is a general belief held by many that our cultural tastes have hit new lows in the Twenty-first Century. Recently, I read an article regarding a TLC program called The Man Who Lost His Face, which chronicles the reconstruction of Jose Mestre who had a 12-pound tumour removed from his visage. The article in question condemns the program, saying entertainment has never been so tasteless, however, historically speaking, this show only demonstrates our ability to monetize our appetite for 'freaks' is better than ever before.
The fact that people pay to gaze upon gruesome bodies is nothing new. Sarah Kathryn York's The Anatomy of Edouard Beaupré is a historical fiction based on freak culture. Through her sympathetic biopic of Edouard Beaupré a man who grew to be over eight-feet tall, York dissects our lackluster desires. Dissects is the right word here: the novel opens with the history of Beaupré's corpse as a modern-day doctor, Jean, prods the preserved giant. Beaupré's bones and the landscape of scars tell the story of chronic suffering. Jean, obsessed with the body that is around 100-years old at this point, reads into each marking with the eye of novelist building a character.
From here, the perspective shifts from first to third-person and we learn about who Beaupr‚ may have been. Beaupré's body becomes the template of the novel's form, wherein York builds her story around its anatomy. For instance, the chapter titled 'Liver' details Beaupré's alcoholism and 'Fists' is about the giant's brief fighting career.
York describes a withdrawn giant, ever in pain under the weight of his own frame, a boy in the body of an oversized manikin. Métis by birth, Beaupré is part outcast, part celebrity in his later years. Born in Willow Bunch, Saskatchewan, to Gaspard and Florestine Beaupré, Edward makes his way as a ranch hand, wrestler, storefront display for hire, circus strongman, and all-around freak.
The emphasis is always on Beaupré's body. The novel perfectly executes metaphorical language, wherein all physical descriptions are loaded with history and commentary. For instance, Beaupré's excessive body, with all its suffering, is paralleled with the buffalo holocaust and the native assimilations of Canada. These histories are the broken giants in the room: impossible to ignore. Beaupré, on the cusp of the turn of the century during the final years of his brief life, sees many different wonders and people throughout his tours across the country. But for all his physical power and fame, York shows him as a vulnerable boy as spend-thrifty managers leave him penniless and his massive stature crushes any chance at real relationships. Other than one-night stands with women who are perhaps only interested in experiencing his, cough cough, anatomy.
York, above all, is a story teller. The historical points blend seamlessly with her imaginative character analysis. Beaupré is more than bones and flesh -he is a hapless hero worth his weight in empathy.