Friday, July 18, 2008

The God of Animals: A Novel The God of Animals: A Novel by Aryn Kyle

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this one up last weekend quite randomly. It had a horse on the cover, and when I flipped it over, I was intrigued to read that the first chapter of the book was originally a short story titled "Foaling Season," which, as it happens, won a National Magazine Award for Fiction for The Atlantic Monthly. I figured at the very least it would be writerly, good at best and pompous bullhockey at worst.

I'm pleased to say I loved it! To read that the writer is only 29 years old and a graduate of the writing program at the University of Montana of course makes me want to chew off my nails and spit them at her in jealousy, but that's a good thing. To admit I wish I had written this book is high praise.

This is a "coming of age" story told from the point of view of 12 year-old Alice Winston; the Washington Post is not far wrong when comparing her to the little girls in To Kill a Mockingbird and The Member of the Wedding (to this list I'd add The Heart is a Lonely Hunter). It's a story about love, depression, cruelty, selling yourself out, rage, infidelity, resignation, wealth vs. poverty, and so many other "big" themes, yet through it all moments of grace and triumph come and go without the novel's ever descending into schmaltz. It's a horse story, too, set underneath that Montana "Big Sky." Well-written, the book's characters are totally real, flawed but likeable (even down to the mimosa-swiggin' Catfish). It ends as only a book like this can end, with Alice grieving, stunned, but years wiser--perhaps wiser than most adults.

An astonishing first novel, and I highly recommend it.

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