Book Reviews

The Animals by Christian Kiefer

“What you have come for is death. You might try to convince yourself otherwise but you know in your heart that to do so would be to set one falsehood upon another. In the end there is no denying what is true and what is only some thin wisp of hope that clings to you like hoarfrost on a strand of wire. At least you have learned that much, although you are loath to admit it just as you are loath to come down the mountain, down from the animals, to confirm what you already know you will find. All the while you can feel their shining eyes upon you, their noses pulling at your scent, their bodies pressed tight against the interlaced fencing of their enclosures. The world in its bubble and you holding fast to its slick interior as if to the blood-pumped safety of a womb. You and the animals. And yet after everything you have done, everything you have tried to do, everything you promised yourself, today you know you will have to put on the old clothes of the killer once again.”

And so t22261058[1]he story of Bill Reed begins. The opening paragraph is just the beginning of Bill’s story of duality: the hunted vs. the hunter. Bill first arrived at his uncle’s Idaho Wildlife Rescue to put the past behind him and make a new life for himself. He has friends, coworkers, a love interest and the animals. While he believes that his biggest concern is dealing with Fish & Game for permits, the past he tried so desperately to bury is now resurfacing.

This is truly a literary thriller in the best sense of the words. I didn’t understand what those terms together meant until I read this book. Kiefer keeps the reader on edge with agonizing and disturbing scenes and yet appeals to logophiles with poetic prose that brought me to tears several times. Emotional tears and ignorant tears for all the words I had to look up. The characters are so well drawn that one minute you are hating a likeable character and then rooting for the bad guy to turn the corner. Another character so well defined is the setting. My favorite parts of the book were the exploration of the relationship between humans and animals from the first time Bill watched Marlin Perkins on Wild Kingdom in the 70s to his first encounter with a wounded wild animal.

And the stylistic approaches he uses (third and second person narratives, nonlinear flashbacks) should be a disaster all in one book but it works quite well. To be honest when I started reading it I thought “please not another flashback story”, for they seem to be everywhere, but again the atmospheric prose won me over.

This gorgeous and heartbreaking book has taken a spot on my favorite new release novels for 2015 and since Kiefer’s words slayed my heart page after page I must include one more quote:

“There were things in the world he would never understand. The rules men created to guide them through their lives were little more than guesses meant to fill whatever purpose they could imagine for themselves. Sagebrush and poverty weed. Ground squirrel and pronghorn antelope. Grizzly and wolf and raccoon. All designed to perform a function. But the universe held its workings in secret and a man could claim nothing from that void and instead would need to design in that obscure and private place that is his heart the laws that would govern his life. The clouds a blur of unrecognizable shapes without meaning or purpose. Only function. His had been to survive in the world he had chosen for himself.”

The Animals by Christian Kiefer is 314 pages and was published March 16, 2015 by Liveright. I picked up my copy from the library and you can check Worldcat for a copy near you.

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