Review: Fauna by Donna Mazza, by Dylan Dartnell

Title: Fauna
Author: Donna Mazza
Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Fauna is Donna Mazza’s tribute to an unsettling future that seems as near as new week. Not even twenty years from the present day, scientists have engineered DNA technology that allows them to reverse the extinction of creatures thought to have been lost to an ancient world. LifeBLOOD® recruits Stacey and her husband, Izak, to take part in an experimental genetics program that will blend their human embryo with the genetic coding of a Neanderthal child. They know little of what to expect and how the course of this pregnancy, birth, and the initial years of this child’s—Asta’s—life will define Stacey as a mother, her personhood, and her family.

The chapters are punctuated with the wildlife that surrounds the area. The beginning of the story is set in Perth, close to the hospitals and treatment centres, but relocates to the South-West of WA once Asta is born. Stacey’s observations of the plant life, patterned bird behaviour, and the weather complement her insights into Asta’s rapid growth: her grasps at language, her constant feeding, and the way she engages with her family and shies from strangers. Stacey continues to cite an ecosystem which speaks to the relationship she shares with Asta,

Milk and blood, blood and milk. Whorl together. My blood is her blood, her milk is my blood.

But it also speaks to the fissure that is created between Stacey and Izak; Stacey and her other two children, Emmy and Jake; and Stacey and the fun-loving, adventurous woman of her younger years.  As Stacey becomes one thing for Asta, she becomes less of a thing to the people around her—a breakdown of an ecosystem,

I have become the mother she needs. Who I am and who I might have been have gone completely.

The pages pang with loss and anxiety: the loss of an unborn child, the loss of relationship between Stacey and her own mother, and the loss of intimacy between her and her family. This constant reinforcement of loss generates a lot of anxiety for Stacey. And in an effort to quell the ensuing paranoia, she is willing to sacrifice everything else for the sake of her relationship with her new child.

Mazza establishes a profound study on the delicacies of motherhood—first and foremost—both visceral and deeply empathetic. The author also presents a scientific phenomenon that feels eerily near and made all the more urgent due to the breadth of research that makes this work feel anything but another fictional tale.

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