Book Review: The Call
Tolstoy once said that all happy families are alike, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own unique way. This month, I’ve found a novel featuring a happy family that is happy in a way entirely its own, which includes house calls for farm animals, a near-fatal shooting, and a flying saucer.
The Call, by Yannick Murphy, surprised me from the first page to the last and delighted me on every one in between. Part of the surprise is the way Murphy has chosen to tell the story, through the log of a large-animal veterinarian in Vermont named David Appleton. Each entry begins with a description of “the call”: “A cow with her dead calf half-born” is the first. Along with the details (often gory) of each call, we learn a lot about David, his wife, and their three children in an apparently idyllic small town.
I say apparently idyllic because those of us who live in such places know there’s no such thing. David’s clients are sweet, ornery, strange, sometimes nasty. And one of them might be the unknown hunter who shot David’s son, Sam, out of a tree during bird season. As Sam lies in a coma, David goes on with his work, but he can’t help looking at his neighbors in a new and suspicious light.
Speaking of suspicious lights, David often sees a spaceship over his house at night: “I could not help but think it was otherworldly, the way its lights flashed on and off, the way it flew so low, as if it wanted to see in our windows and check on what my family was doing. I felt that it knew me somehow.” I suppose the spaceship is a symbol of something, but I can’t figure out what, and it doesn’t bother me. It’s just one of those things that happens in the middle of ordinary life.
Murphy knows how some of those things can be tragic and terrifying. I remember being in an intensive-care unit one snowy day, watching helplessly as my wife’s life was leaking away; as I listened to a radio playing down the hall, I couldn’t believe that radio stations were broadcasting music while my wife was dying.
But they do, and she didn’t, and that’s how life is sometimes. We get lucky. In The Call, David Appleton’s family gets lucky, and I feel lucky to have read it.