May 17, 2023 | By:

Raccoon: A Wondertale by Sean Kane


“Our City Republic was a dream in hibernation. We woke it up and made it blossom.”

Guernica Editions is pleased to announce the release of Sean Kane’s memoir Raccoon, an adventure story with quirky characters and real-world concerns in which raccoons are the leading experts at surviving.

Originally written as instalments to entertain Margaret Atwood’s partner, novelist and wildlife activist Graeme Gibson, Raccoon expanded into the interwoven love stories of three raccoon cubs finding their future mates against a background of climate collapse and ecological activism. Animals in the book resemble Atwood and her well-known author friends; the villains resemble Trump and Putin; and the whole panorama a James Cameron epic with awe replaced by wonder and solemnity replaced with laughter.

The Toronto book launch for Raccoon will take place on June 11 at 3:30 PM at Supermarket (268 Augusta Avenue).

Order the book on Amazon, on Indigo, through Guernica Editions, or through your local bookstore.

Sean Kane writes about weather myths and crisis ecology in oral histories and wondertales of the Pacific and Atlantic Northwest. He is the author of Wisdom of the Mythtellers, an exploration of the oral and ecological basis of myth, and of the campus novel Virtual Freedom, a finalist for the Leacock Humour Medal.

“Prepare to be transported. Raccoon is a fiction for all ages, and decidedly for our time” —ANDREW PYPER, author of The Demonologist

“How can we live without Sean Kane’s inspired madness? His loopy intelligence, and the amplitude of his heart, provide necessary medicine for all creatures working for a corrective swerve away from ecological catastrophe and finding themselves wounded in the battle” — DAVID ABRAM, Senior Visiting Scholar in Philosophy and Social Ecology, Harvard University

“Sean Kane’s clear-eyed, beautifully written tale offers a critique of society as it is and a model of what it could be” —STAN DRAGLAND, publisher and professor of literature, Western University

Excerpt from Raccoon

As far as I can tell, the raccoons haven’t left the chimney. The snow has stayed, and now it is raining – bad weather for animals with heavy fur coats. But I can hear a rapid thumping: someone is scratching fleas. They’re awake and must be hungry after a long hibernation. I press my stethoscope against the wall and overhear them chittering …

“Mother, why can’t we go out and pop organic waste bin lids?”

“We require a clear sky and a warm Spring night” is the answer.

“When are we going to get a clear sky and a warm Spring night? The rain has been pattering on the roof forever.”

“You will get a clear Spring night when the Great Raccoon Ancestor has left his den and is high above the southern horizon.”

“He is aloft now, yet we see him not on account of the excess of clouds.”

That was the older brother speaking. At the mention of the Great Spirit he had spoken in the High Tongue.

“Time is truly askew if the Ancestor beckons his clan out of their burrows, yet the clouds contradict him.”

That was Touchwit. I’m coming to tell them apart now. The elder brother seems to be the one called Clutch. The younger brother is Bandit. Then the sister is Touchwit. Their mother is called Slypaws. They don’t talk about their father.

“The Great Raccoon Spirit withholds himself from our gaze,” Clutch said solemnly, “so as to keep us sheltered and warm, thereby sparing us the grumes, running gleet, the mumbles, and suchlike afflictions.”

“I’m not really up to theology first thing in the evening,” Mother Slypaws said.

“Theology isn’t the issue,” Touchwit said, returning to the vernacular. “The issue is that we are in a new time on Earth, and theology is as useless as plastic wrap.”

“Watch your speech, Touchwit. It is foolhardy to be heedless of the One in the Sky who eternally holds us in his paws.” That was Clutch. As elder brother he was surrogate family head.

“He’s not in the sky, is he? He’s not anywhere. Like Dad,” Touchwit said.

“Perhaps he reveals himself not because of the Abuses we have heaped upon his shoulders.”

“The Great Raccoon isn’t going to get us out of this mess. Have you smelled the scent of crab apple blossoms lately? No. That’s because they withhold themselves from gaze and reveal themselves not.” I can imagine Touchwit glaring savagely at her big brother.

“Touch is right, Mom. We’re living proof that time is broken. We were born out of season,” Bandit pointed out.

“That is true, children. You were born at the wrong time of year, when the leaves fall. I had little opportunity to street-proof you. So I stuffed you with Delissio pizza crusts for the hibernation and hid you in this chimney.”

“Street-proof us now, Mom. If the Ancestor can’t be bothered to guide us, then we’ll have to survive by our fingertips.”

The mother raccoon sighed. It was so like Touchwit to think she could face the world armed only with cunning and hand-eye coordination.

“Why were we born out of the love-season?” Bandit asked suddenly. Tense silence.

Elder brother deflects the question: “We should ask, rather, where do Raccoons come from in the first place?”

Noise of shuffling. Mistress Slypaws is straightening her back and folding her paws in her lap. The cubs tuck their tails around their feet, arranging themselves for a story.

“It was the time of beginnings, and the Great Raccoon lay dreaming,” she said. “And he lay dreaming in his hollow. So vast is his hollow that it fills the southern sky, and its entrance is marked by the path of the Moon. And all that time it was winter, and rain fell upon the Earth.”

The cubs huddled closer together. Their chimney didn’t feel so small now, nor their time in it so long.

“And feeling lonely, the Great Raccoon Spirit said: ‘I think I’ll find a companion to warm my side.’ And he dreamed he was foraging in a stream, they say, and a clam was glowing furiously in the moonlight. The clam caught his eye. So he took it in his hands and he scraped the mud of the stream bottom and the tiny snails off the shell. Ever since that first night, Raccoons are careful to rub off the matter adhering to their food, though they appear to be washing their hands.”

At the mention of the Hand Acknowledgment, the three cubs automatically made washing motions with their hands.

“Then he blew upon the Radiant Clam, and cast it upon the stream. And it bounced once, and it bounced twice, and it opened and out of its shell stepped the first Woman. A Woman Raccoon! The Great Raccoon Spirit wondered at her. Now, all Raccoons are fluent and tactile, but of all the Raccoons in the land, none was more elegant of speech nor dexterous of paw than she.”

“Did he jump her, Ma?” Bandit said, breaking in.

“Oh, really, I don’t know where you get these vulgar thoughts,” Slypaws said.

“We get them from the Idiot behind the wall,” Touchwit said, giggling.

“I shall resume the story: Then they did … mingle, and lo! The first litter was born. Three smart cubs.” At this, Slypaws glanced lovingly at Clutch, her first born. There wasn’t a green bin lid in the neighbourhood he couldn’t pop. So wondrous a son who can so astonish a mother!

“This story is dumb,” Bandit said. “We happen to know Raccoons are born because the mom lets herself get jumped.”

Mother Slypaws sounded flustered. Not even the width of my study wall could muffle her embarrassment. “One has to recount the High Stories in their accustomed order before studying their practical applications.”

“I think Mom got jumped around Midsummer,” Bandit said.

Mistress Slypaws examined her tail. It was a bushy tail once. Now, after a winter in this soot-lined hole, it hung limp and bedraggled. “If you must know, he took advantage of the fact that the love season is askew in the general rhythms of things. He caught me at the end of a limb and made me great with cub. It was either that or a thirty foot drop into the rhododendrons.” Slypaws looked up grimly.

“And you can bet the rings on your tails I’ll never get caught on a limb again … Ever.”

“Way to go, Mom!”

“Instead, I shall go to the fabled city under the southern sky that is called Raccoonopolis, where the Idiots have invented a green bin that can be popped in nine seconds.”

“Let’s all go.”

Touchwit had been quiet. She was going to say something crucial. “That’s why you don’t want us to go out tonight,” she said. “You’re afraid of getting jumped.”

“I’m not thinking only of myself, dear.”

“I can look after myself.”

“Good luck!”

Again, the elder brother filled the silence with earnestness. “Who is our father then, if he isn’t the Great Raccoon Ancestor?”

“You will meet him in good time. When you’re big enough to hold your place at the end of a tree limb against a distempered, hormonal mass of raging stupidity. Until that night, you shall remain scarce in our chimney.”

“But, what’s his name?” Clutch insisted. “At least, tell us his name.” “It doesn’t matter what his name is. He’s a jerk.”

“Mom, we need to know his name. He’s our father.”

“Your father’s name is … Meatbreath.”

“Our Dad’s name is Meatbreath. No way!”

At this, I tactfully withdrew my stethoscope from the wall. One hot Spring night, there was going to be a terrific confrontation, and it was hard to guess which of the cubs was going to be the one who would reckon with their father.

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Jeff Hoffman
10 months ago

My experience with nonhuman animals is that they experience many if not most of the same thoughts and feelings as humans. Glad to know that I’m not the only one who recognizes that.

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