Is there a litmus test for whether or not we like a book? At book club last night, where we discussed our first book of 2009, The God Of Animals by Aryn Kyle, we asked the question: would you recommend this book to a friend? The answers were varied and that’s even after we had a very lively discussion of the book’s merits (and there were a few.)
The God of Animals begins with the death of 12 year old Polly Cain. It’s a riveting scene in which we learn not only of Polly’s death but also several other important things about the novel’s narrator, Alice Winston. Alice returns to Polly’s death again and again throughout the novel, but we never learn exactly how the young girl died. Whether or not the information is relative will be entirely up to the reader, but some might find that never knowing Polly’s fate is just one of the ways Kyle leaves the reader dangling.
Alice Winston lives on the family horse farm with her father, Joe, and her mother, Marian. Alice’s older sister, Nona, left the farm six months earlier, with her rodeo husband, Jerry. The Winston’s struggle to make ends meet on the farm and Alice’s family life is further complicated by the fact that her mother retired to her room after giving birth to her and she’s never really gotten out of bed. Of course, that doesn’t mean she isn’t aware of what’s going on; she watches the comings and goings (of rich women who board their horses at the farm) from her window.
The story unfolds during the crippling heat of one summer and climaxes during a snow storm- the first snow in Alice’s life. As Alice tests her boundaries and learns certain truths about the way the world works, she also navigates the tricky road of adult relationships. Then, of course, there are the horses: we see them give birth, we see the foals separated from their mothers, we see them being bred and broken, we see them maimed and killed.
Despite all this, The God of Animals is a quiet book. The prose is quiet- it never quite swept me along. The characters were interesting, but I was never wholly invested in them. I wonder what might have happened if the narrator had not been Alice?
So, back to my original question: would I recommend this book? My answer – maybe. *g