Publisher: Liveright. March 2015
Genre: Literary fiction
First Line: What you have come for is death.
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Bill Reed manages a wildlife sanctuary in rural Idaho, caring for injured animals raptors, a wolf, and his beloved bear, Majer, among them that are unable to survive in the wild. Seemingly rid of his troubled past, Bill hopes to marry the local veterinarian and live a quiet life together, the promise of which is threatened when a childhood friend is released from prison. Suddenly forced to confront the secrets of his criminal youth, Bill battles fiercely to preserve the shelter that protects these wounded animals and to keep hidden his turbulent, even dangerous, history. Alternating between past and present, Christian Kiefer contrasts the wreckage of Bill's crime-ridden years in Reno, Nevada, with the elusive promise of a peaceful future. In finely sculpted prose imaginatively at odds with the harsh, volatile world Kiefer evokes, The Animals builds powerfully toward the revelation of Bill s defining betrayal and the drastic lengths Bill goes to in order to escape the consequences. - Goodreads
There's nothing better than a book that surprises you. When I started reading this I was sort of in a phase where I was over books about guys having feelings about things and not doing much. I wanted aliens is basically what I was trying to say. But The Animals roped me right back into literary fiction. Not only was it beautifully written, it was thrilling, page-turning, and ultimately heartbreaking.
At the beginning of the book, it's sort of hard to place the characters within a time or place. The narrative jumps around a bit, but it's so gratifying when you begin to figure out why that is and who is who. Over time the past of our main character, Bill, is revealed to us. Bill is such a down to earth guy and he's struggling to do so much good with his animal sanctuary (which is facing enormous pressure from more bureaucratic forces). It's hard to imagine what could possibly have Bill in trouble with his childhood friend who just got released from jail. And figuring it out is so riveting.
Christian Kiefer writes some absolutely gorgeous prose and raises some interesting moral questions about what being good means and how much of the past should be forgiven. He had me completely wrapped up in his story and I was sad to leave. Oh, and it totally made me cry. His depiction of the strong bond that humans and animals can have is probably the most realistic I've ever encountered. If you're looking for a dark, raw, emotional literary thriller, look no further.
"There is no ground beneath you. Everything is water sucking into dry sand. You are in a muddy pond and there is a snake around your body and it is pulling you under. You are in a muddy pond and there is no television crew to help pull you from its depths."
"...the ringing and clanging of the casino's bells fading into a slow reverberant silence and their bodies shining. He sat up late, thinking about how their lives must have changed after such an event, the golden moment that rotated them out of wherever they had been and into a world so unexpected they could never have imagined its geography at all. Lives made incandescent in an instant."