Corinna Chong’s debut collection of short stories explores strange human nature through fixations on bodies, weaving together the basic instinct and complex thought that encompasses the human experience. The Whole Animal is a collection of thirteen stories, each experienced just as viscerally as the last. Chong writes a beautifully crafted collection on the ethics of veganism, the trials of pregnancy, and the tribulations of girlhood, tied together by the concept of animalistic traits dispersed within human life. An overall excellent collection with images that will stay with the reader indefinitely.
The collection’s title story, ‘The Whole Animal,’ is one of the few stories that delve into human relations with literal animals, as a young couple attempt to become vegans after they manage to eat their favourite animal products for the last time. The story sets the tone of the entire book in the issue of constant moral dilemmas and the trouble of allowing reactions to be both personal and impersonal.
The collection includes ‘Kids in Kindergarten,’ the winner of the CBC Short Story Prize in 2021. The story follows a young woman who struggles to get pregnant with her wife, detailing miscarriages in a bit of a grotesque fashion. The story explores the barest form of human life as something very animal-like, that humans originate from simple biological function. The woman volunteers regularly at an elementary school and feels a strange connection with a boy named Lonnie, whose mother apparently did not want him. Through these carefully selected details, Chong demonstrates both a yearning and a disgust surrounding motherhood.
‘Zora, in the Whirl’ and ‘Porcelain Legs’ depict the difficulty within girlhood, specifically the navigation of social lives when a young girl’s body is morphing into a stranger that is unrecognizable. After seeing the porcelain legs of a friend that also ignores her in public, the main character spirals into the belief of her unworthiness. ‘Zora’ is a childhood best friend built up to be something other than herself, a facade that fell in adulthood. The stories portray the human experience of striving for connection and feeling persistent alienation from others and oneself.
Other notable stories were ‘Butter Buns’ and ‘Siberpoo,’ which focused on the question of naturalness in bodies. A son is disturbed by his mother’s new hobby of bodybuilding which also leads to his parent’s separation, and a dinner party conversation of dog breeds snowballs into the narrator’s reeling thought of the cruelty of forcing things together that clearly do not belong. Chong insists the body is worthy of thought-provoking questions.
Corinna Chong attained her BA in English in Creative Writing and BFA in Visual Art in Photography from the University of Calgary, as well as an MA in English in Creative Writing from the University of New Brunswick. She now teaches introductory creative writing and applied for publishing courses as part of Okanagan College’s Writing and Publishing Diploma program. She has served on editorial boards for literary magazines, including UNB’s Qwerty and The Fiddlehead, and lives in Kelowna, British Columbia.