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The God of Animalsby Aryn Kyle
Synopses & Reviews
From an award-winning and talented young novelist comes one of the most exciting fiction debuts in years: a breathtaking and beautiful novel set on a horse ranch in small-town Colorado.
When her older sister runs away to marry a rodeo cowboy, Alice Winston is left to bear the brunt of her family's troubles — a depressed, bedridden mother; a reticent, overworked father; and a run-down horse ranch. As the hottest summer in fifteen years unfolds and bills pile up, Alice is torn between dreams of escaping the loneliness of her duty-filled life and a longing to help her father mend their family and the ranch.
To make ends meet, the Winstons board the pampered horses of rich neighbors, and for the first time Alice confronts the power and security that class and wealth provide. As her family and their well-being become intertwined with the lives of their clients, Alice is drawn into an adult world of secrets and hard truths, and soon discovers that people — including herself — can be cruel, can lie and cheat, and every once in a while, can do something heartbreaking and selfless. Ultimately, Alice and her family must weather a devastating betrayal and a shocking, violent series of events that will test their love and prove the power of forgiveness.
A wise and astonishing novel about the different guises of love and the often steep tolls on the road to adulthood, The God of Animals is a haunting, unforgettable debut.
"Some people seem fated to live in untenable situations. In this beautiful first novel, Alice Winston, 12 years old, has grown up in one. She lives in a town in the Western American desert, which — although it can be exquisite — doesn't always take kindly to the existence of humans. Her mother has been a victim of something like postpartum depression for as long as Alice can remember, and... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) stays in a back bedroom for weeks on end. Her father, Joe, whom some would call a dreamer, maintains a stable for show horses, except that not many customers want to share in the show horse dream. Joe dwells in an imagined world where he gets to do exactly what he wants to do: purchase horses, breed them, break them, train them, then wait for a steady stream of wealthy little girls to ride them in shows. It should make him rich. It worked, more or less, for his father and grandfather. But Joe lives in a real world where ends don't meet. There's that wife, for instance. And Joe's older daughter, champion rider Nona, has just run off and married a 19-year-old cowboy. There's nobody left to help him but Alice, and — unlike her sister — she's no horsewoman. All she can do is work like a galley slave, helping her dad to keep up the enterprise, hoping to make those ends meet. They pin their hopes on pipe dreams. When Sheila Altman, a rich girl just Alice's age, is brought over by her mother to take lessons and help out with the horses, Joe is overjoyed, but Sheila turns out to be a terrible rider. Quite a few of the stalls in the stable end up occupied by boarders, horses owned by affluent women who by and large have given up on the men in their lives and turned back to a girl's best friend, the horse. These women seem goofy and childlike. They drink champagne from thermoses; they groom their horses and gossip their time away. The loneliness in the barn is endemic, sickening. The Winstons are dirt-poor; the whole town knows it. They barely scrape along. Alice sees all this. She's smart but uninformed, close cousin to the little girls in 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and 'The Member of the Wedding.' She adores her dad, but she can see that while on the one hand he's been taking care of his invalid wife and children, on the other hand he's knavish. He charges his rich ladies three times as much as he should for sawdust and fills up their filtered-water containers from the hose; he flirts shamelessly with them and uses all his considerable charm to get what he wants — again, the dream life of a horse baron. He's like a self-absorbed kid, obsessed with having his own way. Which is probably why Nona has run off with her cowboy — she wanted to be the star of her own life, instead of just playing a supporting role to someone else. Alice, even though she loves her dad, can't possibly take up the slack. Then other things happen. A girl Alice barely knows drowns in a nearby canal. A teacher attends the girl's funeral; he's someone else Alice barely knows, but because she is drowning in loneliness, she takes to calling him in the middle of the night. This is only half the cast of characters here. Horses are everything in this novel. There's Yellow Cap, spirited and terrific; he used to belong to Nona, but Joe sells him to the inexperienced and dorky Sheila. There's the fiendish mare Darling Peaches and Cream; she's bought by Joe for way too much money. He's mad for her. He wants to break her, train her, sell her for a fortune, but anyone can see it's not going to turn out the way he wants. Out back, there's a group of ancient and wretched geldings that Joe has bought from 'kill sales,' saving them from the glue factory, pampering them, bringing them back to something like their old life. And there are the broodmares, whose existence consists of constant, unspeakable suffering — pregnancy after pregnancy, and then their foals are taken from them. Their teats crack and bleed; they hear their foals wailing, heartbroken. And there's Toy Boy, aptly named, the handsome plaything of Patty Jo, one of the women who hang out at the stable to forget their soured lives. What does it mean to 'domesticate' an animal, to subvert it to the wishes and whims of humankind? Joe's horses serve as diversion and amusement, but also something far stranger. They are there to submit to the will of people who want to feel better about themselves, more godlike. In his arena, Joe rules like a king. Under his rule, the broodmares get pregnant on demand. The barn stud is shunned and demeaned. One of the poor maimed geldings — the 'old men,' as Joe calls them — has been hammered almost to death by someone we have been led to believe is a sympathetic character. And, of course, the horses are used equally here by the women, as charming substitute lovers. Alice's mother puts up with 'women's lot,' embracing it, in fact, to be spared from a brutal life. Nona runs away — but there's nowhere to go. Darling Peaches and Cream deals her stud a kick that will keep him less than virile for a while, but she's due for a bad end. Alice's dad seems terrific at first, but their life is untenable, an existence based on cheesy lies and petty crime. Joe is not the amazing dad of 'To Kill a Mockingbird' or the absent one of 'The Member of the Wedding.' He's a seriously flawed human, trying hard to be God. Readers whose daughters yearn for horses when they're reaching puberty might do well to give those daughters this thoughtful, heartsick book. It may not be right to use animals to act out your fantasies! Maybe — contrary to conventional wisdom — the greasy-haired boy in the leather jacket with the cigarette dangling from his chapped lips is the wiser, kinder, less dangerous, and in the end, more discreet choice." Reviewed by Louis Bayard, whose 'The Pale Blue Eye' has been nominated for an Edgar Award for best mystery novel, Patrick Anderson, whose e-mail address is email@example.com, Uzodinma Iweala, the author of the novel 'Beasts of No Nation', and Carolyn See, who may be reached at www.carolynsee.com. Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"This is a very impressive debut....A powerful tale, from a writer with real promise, of a girl coming of age amid a dying way of life." Booklist
"No novel in recent memory has captured the West so well. Kyle is an absolute discovery, her book a perfect read." Andrew Sean Greer, author of The Confessions of Max Tivoli
"Aryn Kyle's The God of Animals is a moving, beautifully crafted novel about families, horses, love, death, class in America, and serious weather. Narrated by a twelve-year-old girl, it still contains a full adult measure of betrayal and desire and complex joy, and has a terrifying momentum by the end. It's a wonderful book." Maile Meloy, author of Liars and Saints and A Family Daughter
"Kyle has created an adolescent voice that is charming and authentic." Library Journal
"A powerful tale, from a writer with real promise, of a girl coming of age amid a dying way of life." Booklist
"A memorable novel gracefully compares and contrasts the vast landscapes of the human condition....To find these elements expertly handled in a debut novel — as they are in The God of Animals — is reason for readers to rejoice." USA Today
"Kyle writes an original coming-of-age story in a subtle, but strong voice. The characters are rich and pure, and you come to know them as complete people....This is a debut to make many veteran writers jealous. The story will stun you with its climax." Rocky Mountain News
"The God of Animals is a book with a strong bloodline: Jayne Anne Phillips's Machine Dreams, Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, with their hard-luck families and wise, weary girl narrators. But the confidence, and the congratulations, belong to Kyle alone." Charlotte Observer
"As Walter Mosley has pointed out, the conventions of the coming-of-age novel are as deeply ingrained as those of detective fiction. Thankfully, The God of Animals turns out to be smarter than most....If the ending isn't as gratifying...I was still glad to take the ride." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Growing pains and the loss of innocence on a desert ranch....A talented writer's lyrical but oppressive first work." Kirkus Reviews
"It's a pretty volatile mix that does, as promised, explode, though in a way I never expected. Despite the jagged ups and downs of Kyle's prose, I read this straight through, never leaving my chair. (Grade: B)" Entertainment Weekly
"[A] first novel that's so strong, startling, and moving, that it's a thoroughbred from the first page... In stark, gorgeous prose, Kyle tunnels into the dark heart of the connections between people and place.... The God of Animals does what the best fiction does — it creates a whole living, breathing world and unfolds it in front of us, granting us entry into a place that, like this author, is impossible to forget." The Boston Globe
"Aryn Kyle's stunning debut is a wry and moving look at a disappearing way of life...an astonishingly assured debut... powerfully understated, ruefully funny... it's early Annie Proulx to whom she bears particular comparison." Vogue
In her stunning debut, Kyle produces an emotionally powerful coming-of-age story that deftly and movingly captures not only the complexity of love, loss, and human relationships but also the fierce and powerful bond between horses and humans.
About the Author
Aryn Kyle graduated from the University of Montana writing program. In 2004 her short story "Foaling Season," now the first chapter of this novel, won a National Magazine Award for Fiction for The Atlantic Monthly. Kyle spent most of her childhood in Grand Junction, Colorado, and now lives in Missoula, Montana.
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