Reading The Anatomy of Edouard Beaupré is like venturing into The Twilight Zone. The novel is so well researched and written that it’s hard to tell where facts leave off and fiction begins.
Beaupré, the eldest of 20 children, was indeed real. Author Sarah Kathryn York adds further realism to her novel by introducing actual historical characters such as Canadian strongman Louis Cyr.
It was impossible for Beaupré to remain inconspicuous. Known as the Willow Bunch Giant, standing at eight feet, three inches, he stood out like a redwood tree in a wheat field. He was still growing when he died at age 23.
His size made him an object of ridicule and exploitation throughout his short life. Even in death, he was not free from abuse. His corpse went on public display in a store window in St. Louis, Missouri, and again as an exhibit at the University of Montreal.
York revels in imagery, saying that “rags of clouds scrubbed the sky.” A master of metaphor and simile, she peppers her story with literary devices. She describes a gang member as having “eyes like shotgun barrels,” or that “Cyr advanced like a locomotive,” or that “Edouard’s heart pounded like a cylinder in a raging music box.”
York’s book is thoroughly researched, historically accurate, and realistically written. One could almost say that it is anatomically correct because each chapter deals with a different body part – such as bones, nose, liver, fists, hair, lungs, heart, and eyes – and reveals some aspect of Beaupré’s character.
Whether by design or happenstance, the book runs to 206 pages – precisely the number of bones in the human body.
Each of the eight chapters is introduced by a black and white archival photo showing Beaupré at different stages of his life.
The story is told from the point of view of a mortician who examines Beaupré’s body and tries to get inside his mind, to see Beaupré’s life as he lived it.
By blending fact and fiction, and blurring the distinction between them, York provides the reader with a startling new perspective on the Willow Bunch Giant.
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