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.
Horses and lost love propel this confident debut novel about Alice Winston, a 12-year-old loner with family troubles in Desert Valley, Colo. Her mother hasn't left her bed since Alice was a baby; her father struggles to keep their horse ranch solvent; and her beautiful older sister, Nona, has eloped with a rodeo cowboy. Alice resists befriending the rich girl who takes riding lessons from her father, becomes obsessed with a classmate who drowns in a nearby canal and entangles herself with adults whose motives are suspect. Kyle imbues her protagonist with a genuine adolescent voice, but for all its fluidity, her prose lacks punch, and too often, somber descriptions of Colorado's weather and landscape are called upon to underscore themes of human isolation, jealousy and pain ("Tomorrow, the sun would rise and deaden the land beneath its indifference"). The coupling of female adolescence with the stark West produces its share of harsh truths, though Kyle overstates the moral: love hurts, it's a dangerous world and the truth is hard to swallow. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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March 19, 2007
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Excerpt from The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle
Six months before Polly Cain drowned in the canal, my sister, Nona, ran off and married a cowboy. My father said there was a time when he would have been able to stop her, and I wasn't sure if he meant a time in our lives when she would have listened to him, or a time in history when the Desert Valley Sheriff's Posse would have been allowed to chase after her with torches and drag her back to our house by her yellow hair. My father had been a member of the sheriff's posse since before I was born, and he said that the group was pretty much the same as the Masons, except without the virgin sacrifices. They paid dues, rode their horses in parades, and directed traffic at the rodeo where my sister met her cowboy. Only once in a great while were they called upon for a task of real importance, like clearing a fallen tree from a hunting trail, or pulling a dead girl out of the canal.
Polly Cain disappeared on a Wednesday afternoon, and at first people were talking kidnapping. An eleven-year-old girl was too young to be a runaway, so they figured someone must have snatched her. But then they found her backpack on the dirt road that ran alongside the canal, and soon they called my father. For the two days that the sheriff's posse dragged the canal, they traded in their white tuxedo shirts and black felt Stetsons for rubber waders that came up to their armpits, and they walked shoulder to shoulder through the brown water. I passed them on my way home from school. It was only April, but already the mayflies were starting to hatch off the water, and I watched my father swat them away from his face. I waved and called to him from the side of the canal, but he clenched his jaw and didn't look at me.
"We found that girl today," he said when he came home the next afternoon. I was making Kool-Aid in a plastic pitcher, and he stuck his finger in and then licked it. "Tangled in one of the grates."
"Is she dead?" I asked and he stared at me.
"You stay away from that canal when you're walking home, Alice," he said.
"Will there be a funeral?" I pictured myself like a woman in the movies, standing beside the grave in a black dress and thick sunglasses, too sad to cry.
"What do you care?"
"We were partners in shop class. We were making a lantern." The truth was that Polly had been making the lantern while I watched. She had been a good sport about the whole thing and let me hold it when our teacher, Mr. McClusky, walked by, so that he would think I was doing some of the work.
"I don't have time to take you to a funeral, Alice," my father said, and he put his hand on the top of my head. "There's just too much work around here. I've already lost two days."
I nodded and stirred the Kool-Aid with a wooden spoon. There was always too much work. My father owned a stable. Between posse meetings he gave riding lessons and bred and raised horses, which he sold to people who fed them apple slices by hand and called them "baby." In the mornings my father and I fed the horses while it was still dark, and I would walk to school shaking hay from my hair and clothing, scratching at the pieces that had fallen down the front of my shirt. In the afternoons we cleaned the stalls and groomed and exercised the horses. It was foaling season and my father didn't like to leave the barn even for a minute, in case one of our mares went into labor. It was just as well. I didn't have a black dress.
"You've been a trouper, kid," he said. "When your sister comes back, things will calm down."