Sunday, June 10, 2007

The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle

The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle
Scribner Fiction
305 pages
Released March, 2007

Sheila Altman had finally come back and we mucked stalls while the sounds of hammering echoed through the barn. "I'm thinking of giving it up," she said, and I stopped, the pole of my rake sweaty in my palms. The air around us vibrated with the noise of building, and for a moment, I thought about pretending I couldn't make her out over the din. But Sheila stared across at me through the white feathers of her eyelashes. I had heard every word and she knew it.

The quote above is almost random; I flipped through The God of Animals until I found a paragraph that I felt was fairly representative of Aryn Kyle's prose. Her writing is simple and straightforward, written from the viewpoint of 12-year-old Alice Winston, who lives on a run-down horse ranch with her overworked father and a mother who has been depressed since Alice's birth - so severely depressed, in fact, that she never leaves her room. Alice's sister, Nona, has run away with a cowboy, leaving Alice to bear the enormous responsibility of helping her father with cleaning and upkeep of both home and horse stalls, paying bills and caring for her mother. And, Alice's lab partner from school has been found dead, drowned in a canal.

Alice is understandably anguished over the tragic death of a child she knew, twisting her own mental image of her former lab partner to fit her emotional needs. In her mind, the dead child becomes the best friend Alice never had, while in reality she is unable to connect with the one person willing to offer her friendship, the wealthy client whom her father is training to ride Nona's old horse.

There's a lot more to the story of Alice than I can possibly describe without summarizing the entire story, so I'll focus on the characters and the overall feel of the story. In general, The God of Animals is depressing. It's about a young girl experiencing the harsh realities of life and reacting by grasping at love in a very odd place. At times Alice seems to be almost devoid of emotion - stony, quiet, stoic. At other times, she seems wise beyond her years. Her father, Joe, is a man who does the work he believes he's meant to do, but he has no head for business. He seems strong and courageous, but he's also incredibly frustrating. Nona is enigmatic and Alice's mother is baffling.

So, what kept the pages turning? Simply put: I wanted to know what was going to happen. Would Nona ever return? Would Alice's mother ever emerge from her depression or would someone find help for her? Were things ever going to improve on the ranch? The author's writing was not earth-shattering or beautiful in any way, and yet the book was a fluid read. I don't have any interest in horses, but I found that I enjoyed reading about the everyday workings of the ranch.

In the end, I had mixed feelings about the book. It's written well enough that I found the characters believable - so believable, in fact, that they angered or perplexed me. My biggest frustration was Joe's indifference toward his wife. It made no sense to me why anyone would let his wife languish in a depression so deep that she couldn't even summon the energy to leave her room. And, yet, The God of Animals is not Joe's story. The story is about Alice, about surviving tough times and reaching out, about a young girl's attempt to find escape in her own desperate way.

I think it's very telling that I knew, within the first 50 pages, that I would not ever reread the book. I knew I'd be able to read it and part with it easily, unless the author revealed some earth-shattering truth or ended on such an uplifting note that I would feel compelled to revisit the story in order to relive the experience. Kyle did not satisfy me in that way. The ending is neither horrifying nor uplifting, tolerable in that all the ends were tied up and yet disappointing for the same reason. It pulled me in both directions - loved it for ease of reading, hated it for heaping on so much sadness without revealing any great truth, wanted to kick the characters, found them somehow both dull and fascinating, admired them a little for toughing it out, thought they were stupid for the same reason.

Overall, I'm going to call it an average read. Had I not received The God of Animals as an advanced reader, I'm not certain I would have finished it.


Our weekend seems to have caught up with me, around mid-afternoon, so I'll leave you with a few bits of silliness.

Sign of the week:
Translation: "We have a high theft rate in this skanky hotel; if you pilfer the towels we'll find out and you'll pay dearly for our crappy linens."

You should probably pay for the good life insurance policy if you have the kind of job that requires a lifeline:

I wasn't kidding! Olympic athletes really do eat healthy food:

Coming up:

Photos of the two very hoopty authors I met, anecdotes about our journey, and whatever else hits me.

Fun of the day:

Running to Jackson to snatch up our luggage because the airline we were originally meant to fly on did not receive a request for our luggage and was threatening to hand it over to the other airline (the one that loses things). Followed by lunch at our favorite restaurant, a nap, and a whole lot of laundry. The food and the nap were really the only fun parts; but, I'm happy to have our luggage back.

I really missed finding the time to read, this week, so I'm off. Happy Sunday, everyone!


  1. I'm almost finished with The God of Animals, too. I may have liked it a tad more than a 3/5, but I agree with your review, and agree that it's a depressing book. Thanks for the review--we can compare notes soon!

  2. Happy Sunday to you too :) I love that sign in the hotel! That's hilarious! Doesn't take much in life to give me a good laugh.

    Is your favorite restaurant the one that gives you the whole fried fish still on the bone? That was one of the first posts I read of yours and I love that picture :)

    Enjoy catching up on your reading.

  3. $9 for a towel? Good grief!

    Of course, now that I've said that, I have to admit I haven't gone out and bought new towels in some time so they could very well be that expensive...

    Thanks for the review. I've been debating about the book and now I know I can save my time and money. I'm just not into depressing books.

    The vacation obviously agreed with you but I think I can safely say we're all glad you're back.

  4. I enjoyed your review. Hmm, I don't know if I'll get this to it any time soon. I guess I'd have to be in the mood for something like this.

  5. GR,

    I always have trouble with those ratings. I toyed with 3.5/5 and might go back and change to that, myself. Can't wait to see what you have to say!


    Hope you had a great weekend! I'm always looking for bits of craziness and I thought that sign was a hoot.

    The catfish restaurant is in Oxford, so . . . yes and no. It's my favorite in MS, but we were in Jackson and went to the Greek place. Mmmm.

    I almost finished a book, last night, but then I couldn't keep my eyes open a moment longer. So far today: fetched the cats and the mail. Now, back to laundry. Could life be more exciting? ;)


    Yeah, $9. And, we're not talking fluffy Egyptian cotton. You can get some pretty decent towels (about twice as thick) for that price - particularly during a white sale. They didn't have to worry about old Bookfool getting so excited that she just had to have a skanky hotel towel. :)

    I like to avoid depressing books, myself. It was pretty good; I just feel like I prefer a book that has a more uplifting ending.

    Oh, thanks. I got my kitties and one is howling at my feet to remind me we're both back and one of us needs a can opened. Hahaha. What a cat.


    I think you do have to be in the right mood for this book. In my case, heading out on vacation, I was a little more upbeat than usual. Plus, I left the other two review books behind so I didn't have much choice!

  6. I love that sign about the towels! I'm glad you had a nice time away.

  7. Tara,

    Isn't it funny? ;)

    Thanks, we had such a great time. I always kind of hate coming home after a visit to Ann Arbor, but we had enough of a hassle getting home to make it appear a wee bit more attractive. LOL

  8. The books sounds kinda heavy. Thanks for the review.

  9. Yep, kinda heavy. I'm glad I read it when I did. It might have gotten me down, otherwise.

  10. LOL, great post! I love the pic of the warning sign about amenities. Never actually seen one of those, but I knew they had to exist somewhere!

  11. Wow. Great review!! Not sure that I'm for another depressing book though at the moment.

    I don't think I'll be stealing any more towels though!! That's a pretty steep price to have to pay!

  12. Andi,

    Don't tell anyone, but it was a Best Western and they *all* suck. I don't know how any hotel can be so consistently nasty, but if I remember right . . . it's been a while since I read up on them . . . they buy out old, dying hotels. Obviously, they have high-class clientèle. LOL


    Thanks. I'm ready for some uppers, myself. I have one review book to finish for Estella and then I'm going to read my Stevi Mittman ARC. Stevi will brighten my day. :)

    You've stolen towels? Tch-tch. Those towels were soooo not worth stealing, even for free.

  13. Great post and great review. Its good to see so many photos as well - the hotel sign in particular made me laugh!

  14. Heidijane,

    That sign made me laugh, too. Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed the review. :)

  15. Nancy, I was so thrilled to see a review for "God of Animals". It has received quite a bit of publicity ( I have been seeing lots of ads for it), so I was curious to find out what kind of a read it was...too bad it's depressing. I had a school friend whose mother was permanently depressed (she, too never left her room), I saw up close how devastating that was for my poor friend.

  16. Lotus,

    I've thought about going back to revise my rating upward on The God of Animals. It's sad, yes, but no more so than a lot of the books you read. And, it's definitely written well - it has an easy flow. So, I keep thinking, "Really, it's above average, not just average." I may amend that, today. Do you want my ARC?

  17. Nancy, that is so generous of you! I would love to have it but only if you don't mind that I hang onto it for a couple of months? Thank you so very much for offering, you're a gem!

  18. Lotus,

    You can hang onto it forever, pass it on if you'd like - whatever works for you. I don't need it back. Send your address to me at:

    nancytoes @ bellsouth dot net (without the spaces and the dot turned to a dot, of course) and I'll get it sent as soon as I can. :)


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