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The God Of Animals: A Novel

by Aryn Kyle
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publishing date: 04/03/2008
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9781416533252
  • ISBN: 1416533257

Synopsis

The Significant Seven Spotlight Title, March 2007: Aryn Kyle's haunting coming-of-age novel is the kind of book that you want to share with everyone you know. Twelve-year-old Alice Winston is growing up fast on her father's run-down horse ranch--coping with the death of a classmate and the absence of her older sister (who ran off with a rodeo cowboy), trying to understand her depressed and bedridden mother, and attempting to earn the love and admiration of her reticent, weary father. Lyrical, powerful, and unforgettable, The God of Animals is our must-read, must-own, must-share book for March. --Daphne Durham


Amazon.com
With the sure hand of a seasoned writer, Aryn Kyle has crafted a brilliant debut with her novel, The God of Animals. Alice Winston, living on the family horse ranch, a marginal enterprise in Desert Valley, Colorado, is a 12-year-old girl with more than she can handle and no one to help her cope. Polly, a classmate of hers, drowned in the nearby canal and was carried out by Alice's father, Joe, a member of the volunteer posse. Her older sister, 16-year-old Nona, eloped with a rodeo cowboy. Her mother never leaves her bedroom, a case of clinical depression. "My mother had spent nearly my whole life in her bedroom... Nona said that one day, while I was still a baby, our mother had handed me to her, said she was tired, and gone upstairs to rest. She never came back down."

Joe has little time for Alice, other than counting on her to muck out the stalls and be polite to the paying customers. He doesn't even notice that she has outgrown her clothes. What Kyle does with this scenario is never predictable or clichéd. She writes beautifully of landscapes, interior and exterior, ravaged by extremes: the hottest summer in years, followed by a deluge; a lonely, isolated girl reaching out to a teacher, Mr. Delmar, equally alienated.

Alice starts telling lies, weaving bits and pieces of other people's lives into the tales she tells the teacher. What we eventually find out about her family is more poignant and tragic than anything she can make up. Horse lore is a large part of what explains each of the people in the novel: separating mares from their foals, the way a stud is treated, breaking a horse, ordinary everyday contact. This bond is explored in depth and each person: Alice, Nona, Joe, Joe's father, Alice's mother, is affected by this closeness in a different, unique way, revelatory of each individual's character. Much more than a coming-of-age tale, Kyle told a story of compromises and dreams that will never come true. --Valerie Ryan


10 Second Interview: A Few Words with Aryn Kyle

Q: In 2004, your short story "Foaling Season," the first chapter of The God of Animals, won a National Magazine Award for Fiction for The Atlantic Monthly. Did you have the idea for your book at the time you wrote the short story, or did the novel develop over time?
A: Three years passed between the time that I finished the short story and the time I returned to expand it into a novel. I was always interested in the characters and in the town which the story takes place, but after the story was published, I assumed I was done with them. In the aftermath of graduate school and a failed attempt at another novel, I found myself living back in my hometown of Grand Junction, Colorado, the town that Desert Valley is loosely based upon. More and more, I caught myself thinking about Alice again. I was interested in how the town had changed over the years, in the way that a tide of money and commercial culture was displacing the old families and the old ways. But mostly, I was interested in Alice's family, and in Alice's struggle to make a place for herself in a world that seems to have no place for her. The short story ended before she could really make any headway. I became curious as to where she might go and who she might become if the events of the story continued into the wider space of a novel. The story of The God of Animals starts with Chapter One, but I've always felt that the novel really starts with the second chapter.

Q: How much of your adolescence and personal experience are incorporated into your novel? Like Alice, did you ride horses growing up in Colorado?
A: Lots? None? This is a tricky question to answer. As far as lifestyle and experience, my own adolescence could not have been more different from Alice's. I didn't grow up on a ranch; didn't have a sister; my mother got out of bed and went to work every day. But adolescence is adolescence. Like Alice, I certainly know about loneliness, about longing, about regret, and about the confusion of trying to live in the world without really understanding it. Though, if I were going to be perfectly honest, I would have to admit that these are all things I found myself working through in my twenties, rather than in my teens. I did take riding lessons when I was about Alice's age, and I competed in a few local horse shows. It was such a different world from the one I'd grown up in, and though I gave it up when I started high school, I guess it made a pretty big impression on me.

Q: How did you think of the title?
A: The title didn't come to me until I'd finished the book. I was starting to panic a bit, figuring that no one would be too interested in publishing a book called Novel, which is what I'd named the file on my computer. So I did the only thing I could think of--I frantically thumbed through the pages of the draft waiting for something to pop out at me. I reread the scene between Alice and Mr. Delmar where they discuss God and spirituality. Something about that scene seemed to encapsulate some of the greater themes of the novel, the uncertainty Alice has about the world, her desire to believe in something larger than herself, her fears regarding isolation and loneliness.

Q: Do you have another novel in the works?
A: Lately, I've been working mainly on short stories. It's kind of hard for me to spend so much time working on one project, then dive into another. I've needed the time to get Alice's voice out of my head before I commit to another novel. But I do have a second novel underway--I'm superstitious, though, and it seems like bad luck to talk about something while its still in the works. Mostly, my writing starts with the characters, with understanding their flaws and their desires. Plot, for me, seems to come later, after I know what my characters want, and what they're willing to sacrifice to get it.

Aryn Kyle's Favorite Coming-of-Age Novels


Housekeeping

That Night

Thumbsucker

Ghostworld

Atonement

See all 10 of Aryn Kyle's favorite coming-of-age novels (with commentary)



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  • Great book, audio version too
    From Amazon

    This book is fantastic. Alice is truly one of those characters that makes for a great read: familiar and true to life, yet unique and insightful. i've read alot of these sort of 'coming of age' books, and they're hit and miss. This was definitely a 'hit', it was both accurate and new which i think is a key function of this genre. The pace is deliberate and there were times i couldn't believe i was as far as i was and only few weeks had passed in the story. I 'read' the audio version, and was very impressed with Lily Rabe's performance. In my opinion, the reader can make or break even the best or worst book, and she is excellent with this already-amazing material.

  • I hated to finish this book!
    From Amazon

    I finished The God of Animals last night, after slowly and deliberately reading a few pages at a time all day in order to prolong the inevitable moment I'd have to put it down. This is one of the richest and most satisfying novels I've read in a long time. Aryn Kyle accurately and articulately details the world of showing horses and the many facets of running a small time barn. Her characters are believable and she is amazing in her descriptions of Alice a lonely and profoundly sensitive 12 year old, a dysfunctional teacher, a selfish and "sad" mother, a disillusioned, spoiled sister and her young, ultimately likable husband. As if this isn't enough, there's the Altman family, Patty Jo and the Catfish whose lives intersect the Winston's on many levels, They are all brought to life on the pages so truly and deeply that they will remind you of people you've known. Finally there is the father who is at once pitiable, admirable and despicable. He grapples with failure despite his bravado and represents not only the hopelessness of life but also the hope. I'm looking forward to another novel from this author, and in lieu of that for enough time to pass that I can read this one again!!

  • A so-so summer at the stables
    From Amazon

    Most kids look forward to a break from school, but as Alice Winston completes sixth grade, she has only a long hot summer spent doing chores in the stable with her almost forty-year-old father to look forward to. Things have gone from bad (Mom's been a little off since Alice rejected her affections as an infant), to worse (her elder sister ran off and got married months ago). More recently, an acquaintance from school drowned in a culvert, her father's only equestrian student's lack of talent isn't helping business, she has initiated a relationship with a teacher, and the family's financial situation has forced the Winston's to take on boarders. The riders of those horses happen to be a group of well-off thirty to forty-something-year-old women who socialize while drinking alcohol from paper cups and watching her horse-whisperer father work. Thankfully, about the time the reader thinks things can't get any worse for the poor girl, the paternal grandparents swoop in to help them (and the plot). But the visit, punctuated by Mom's ability to get it together and appear downstairs, like all good things, must come to an end. Finally, her sister Nona, an award-winning rider, shows up with her husband. Elder Sister acts as disdainful as expected, but adds some life to the story. Unfortunately, it's mostly downhill to the finish, as the truth comes out about Alice's love interest, things go south with one of the boarders, and an accident befalls a horse (inexplicably mentally scarring another). Although the author does a good job from the start (with an award-winning first chapter) through the middle (especially in setting the scene for Alice's not so great life), the duration of the grandparents' visit and the arrival of Nona, things fall apart in the waning chapters. Of note: Dad telling his daughter (p 41) "Sometimes...I just want to blow my [expletive] brains out;" a pathetic first kiss (p 104) "two dry rubbery muscles wrestling inside a waxy cage of teeth;" Mom, who is depressed but aware, being left alone frequently while Dad, a female friend, and Alice dine out; and a belief-suspending event (p 298) involving the mistreatment of a horse's effect on another. Better: Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand, So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

  • Loved it!
    From Amazon

    I went to Border's to pick up my Book Club's previous book choice and while there, mentioned to an employee that I needed to pick the book for next month. He suggested this one. I loved it! Great escape novel! My 9 year old daughter has an obsessive love for horses and this helped me understand her a little bit better. Great story about ranch life written from a pre-teen's perception, yet enjoyable reading as an adult.

  • the god of small animals
    From Amazon

    "The God of Small Animals," is one of those books I bought, then wished I hadn't believed all the hype. My main issue? Many of the horse details were inaccurate, as other reviewers have noted, which made it hard to become absorbed in the story. Also, the abuse described went beyond anything I have ever seen in the equine world, and though perhaps an accurate reflection of the stables the author is familiar with, seemed to be more likely to render the horse incapacitated rather than obedient.
    Beating then leaving a horse tied for hours without food or water would be unthinkable for most equestrians I have known, no matter how annoyed they were at the horse, but hey, what the heck? Someone must have had had to check the facts in this book, right?

    On to the humans in the story. Alice Winston is a sensitive, lonely preteen, who is ignored by her peers and has recently experienced the death of a classmate. (Just once, I'd like to see a coming-of-age story with an insensitive protagonist.) Her father is the owner/trainer/breeder of a ranch, her mother is either sick, depressed or agoraphobic, and her older sister has recently run off to get married.
    Alice spends most of the book having conversations with an alcoholic English teacher, or witnessing her father's abusive training methods. There are a lot of "issues" in this book, but they never add up to anything major. There are dramatic moments scattered here and there, but it is hard to predict where the story is going and what effect the writer hopes to have on her readers. It ends with a jump ahead in time when the narrator is ready to leave the ranch, too, but it just seems lke the author has run out of drama and needs to find some place to wrap everything up.

    The characters themselves were interesting, but most of them will be familiar to anyone who reads coming-of-age stories about sensitive protagonists. The writing itself was well-done, but again, the inaccuracies about the horse world, made it hard to become absorbed in.



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