PERSONAL: Born in Canada; married Clive Holden (a writer and filmmaker).
ADDRESSES: Home—Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Agent—c/o Denise Bukowski, The Bukowski Agency, 14 Prince Arthur Ave., Ste. 202, Toronto, Ontario M5R 1A9, Canada. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Short story writer and novelist.
AWARDS, HONORS: Bronwen Wallace Award, 1997, for "Stitches"; Journey Prize, 1999, for "The Back of the Bear's Mouth"; Mary Scorer Award for Best Book by a Manitoba Publisher, 2000, for Any Given Power; John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer, 2001.
Any Given Power (short stories), Arbeiter Ring Publishing (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), 1999.
Mercy (novel), Random House Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: An award-winning short-story writer, Alissa York received acclaim for her first story collection, Any Given Power, in which families struggle with poverty and racism in small towns and cities across Canada. One story in particular, "The Back of the Bear's Mouth," has received numerous awards for promising Canadian fiction. Writing in the Vancouver Sun, Robert Wiersema found the collection as a whole "an overlooked gem, a powerful, exciting collection beloved by critics (and by those readers fortunate enough to discover it)."
A few years later, York followed up with a full-length novel, Mercy, in which "lust and sin grapple with religious piety in this moving, occasionally overwrought novel," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The story opens with a young priest, August Day, traveling to the isolated community of Mercy, Manitoba, in 1948. Brought in to assist the aged parish priest, Father August discovers on his arrival that the old priest has died, and almost immediately he has to preside over a wedding. Inconvenience gradually turns into disaster after the inexperienced priest beholds the beautiful, lively bride, Matilda. When Matilda comes to confess that she lied to her good-natured but dull husband on their wedding night in order to avoid sleeping with him, Father August finds himself overwhelmed with lust. The two engage in a brief, furtive fling, but guilt drives them apart. Unfortunately, Matilda is pregnant by then, which sets the scene for a tragic climax on the edge of town. As a Kirkus Reviews contributor noted, "the fallen priest is an old story, but newcomer York's searing images mark her as a talent to watch."
This is not the end of the story. The novel's second part, set over fifty years later, describes generations blighted by Matilda and Father Day's guilty secret. This section of the novel centers on Mary, their daughter, who was adopted by a visionary hermit who plays a key role in the previous events. Living in her father's hut on the bog at the edge of town, Mary has a strange encounter with another clergyman, an evangelical preacher who has none of Father August's embarrassment or regret about his lusts and his conquests. He has come to pave over the bog itself, and the two find themselves in a curious war of wills between logic and guilt-free impulses and the allure of darker mysteries. "As much as I admired the last third of this book and its lecherous priest trapped in the shack of a bog-woman whose swamp he aims to pave over, I couldn't help but feel that I was in a different novel," commented This magazine contributor Hal Niedzviecki. More favorably, Library Journal contributor Eleanor J. Bader found the events in this section "poignantly rendered." Wiersema dubbed the novel, as a whole, "compulsively readable, a triumph of York's storytelling prowess," adding: "It would be an impressive novel from an established author; from a debut novelist, it is a small miracle, graceful and unflinching, violent and beautiful, heartfelt and haunting."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 15, 2004, Misha Stone, review of Mercy, p. 211.
Chatelaine, March, 2003, Bonnie Schiedel, review of Mercy, p. 24.
Herizons, winter, 2004, Cheryl Gudz, review of Mercy, p. 33.
Kirkus Review, August 15, 2004, review of Mercy, p. 777.
Library Journal, September 1, 2004, Eleanor J. Bader, review of Mercy, p. 144.
Publishers Weekly, October 4, 2004, review of Mercy, p. 67.
This, July-August, 2003, Hal Niedzviecki, review of Mercy, p. 14.
Vancouver Sun, February 1, 2003, Robert Wiersema, "The Quality of Mercy."
Alissa York Home Page, http://www.alissayork.com (May 17, 2005).