by Aran Kyle
Macmillan Library Reference
Reviewed by Jodie
'The God of Animals', by Aran Kyle begins with the line:
"Six months before Polly Can drowned in the canal, my sister Nona, ran off and married a cowboy."
If you do not have the same proclivity as me for books involving cowboy romance you might easily believe that this beginning is merely tricksy use of the ‘flash bang’ first sentence. As this type of opening becomes more profuse throughout the book market readers are reluctant to buy books with exciting openings and so miss finding some valuable reading experiences. ‘The God of Animals’ does not rely on one sentence to provide all of its entertainment. The first paragraph is made of sentences that juxtapose a quiet image with a more extraordinary one. This has the result of depicting world while also holding the reader’s attention, for example the sentence:
“My father said there had been 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.”
performs both these tasks admirably.
Alice Winston’s world is bleak. Her father’s ranch is sliding under, making him resentful and misguided. Her mother can not manage the world anymore so she stays upstairs permanently. Her show riding sister, the only hope and comfort has driven off, leaving Alice as the focus of all he father’s dissatisfaction. This kind of existence has made Alice a good liar and at times equally as misguided as he father. However while she fabricates a beautifully unlikely life for the people around her she is not a fantasist. Alice is unable to lie to herself convincingly and so her story is told in a straightforward first person narrative that encompasses the flaws in everyone, including herself. Seeing the minute slights she receives throughout the book, as well as her desperation to please her unbending father balances uneasily with her own mistakes and cruelties to create a vulnerable narrator readers may will find it hard to dislike.
Alice’s story is driven by an extreme energy in keeping with the physical nature of the horse rearing world that she lives in. Yet it is never overtaken by that force or rushed towards the “violent events” hinted at on the book jacket. So many details are carefully placed and integrated as the plot moves along; my favourite is Alice’s father, caring for the “Old Men”, abused horses that he has rebuilt and pastures without profit. Kyle has crafted a mini universe which feels completely isolated from any experiences outside of it, real and untouchable. ‘The God of Animals’ is a reminder that this kind of creation is what readers should expect from every new beginning.