"The God of Animals"
(Reviewed by Sudheer Apte JUN 18, 2007)
The first sentence in Aryn Kyle's novel The God of Animals is:
"Six months before Polly Cain drowned in the canal, my sister, Nona, ran off and married a cowboy."
This may sound like a cheap hook to pull a reader in, but all is revealed soon, and the novel gets deeper very quickly. The first chapter was originally published as a short story, "Foaling Season,'' in The Atlantic Monthly three years ago, when Kyle was still in her writing program at the University of Montana.
The story is told through the eyes of a twelve-year-old girl as she grows up on a farm in small town Colorado. But the first chapter does not have the familiar ring of a coming-of-age novel. Its descriptions of life on a horse farm sound more like Annie Proulx, because of the harsh western desert landscape and the hardscrabble existence of a poor family.
The God of Animals is, in fact, a coming-of-age novel from a young writer. Kyle herself grew up in small-town Colorado, but she has said in interviews and blogs that very little of the book is autobiographical: she didn't grow up on a ranch, didn't have a sister or a bed-ridden mother; all of these are the fate of her narrator, a girl called Alice Winston.
Alice struggles to help her father as he tries to eke out an existence on his horse farm, washing out the barn, caring for the animals, cooking and cleaning. The father, mostly silent, takes on additional services to help with finances: stabling wealthy people's horses and giving lessons to their children.
We follow Alice as she slowly learns more about the people around her: her classmate who drowned, the sister who ran off with the cowboy, her overworked father and depressed mother, her grandparents who visit, and the rich people whose horses they look after. In each case, she discovers nuances and secrets in their relationships. Some of the secrets are hinted at but never revealed, while others burst into the open as full-blooded treachery, love, or both.
At the same time, Alice is undergoing her own growing pains, with complicated feelings of insignificance, anxiety about her own prospects and the happiness of those she loves. These are all handled with care and wisdom far beyond Kyle's years.
The novel tells us about the horse shows, horse training, and of riding horses through the eyes of Alice, and here the author's command of the form shines. The description of Alice's ride on a particularly spirited horse is told entirely in the first person, and it is spectacular. When you are talented, it seems, riding well is not a matter of care and concentration at all, but something else entirely -- something that comes naturally from the center of your being. The same could perhaps be said of Aryn Kyle's writing.
- Amazon readers rating: from 159 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The God of Animals at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
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- Official website for Aryn Kyle
- Reading Guide for The God of Animals
- MostlyFiction.com review of Boys and Girls Like You and Me
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About the Author:
Aryn Kyle grew up in Grand Junction, Colorado and recieved her BA for Colorado State Universtiy. She graduated from the University of Montana MFA in writing 2004. Her short story "Foaling Season" won a National Magazine Award for Fiction for The Atlantic Monthly. Aryn Kyle's fiction has also appeared in The Georgia Review, StoryQuarterly, Best New American Voices 2005, and elsewhere. She is also the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Award.
She moved back to Grand Junction, Colorado to devote her time to writing and is working as a tutor.