Alice Winston is a pensive girl and the entirety of this book is an outpouring of her thoughts throughout a snippet of her childhood. Her family owns a horse ranch in Desert Valley, Colorado, and at the start of the book her mother has secluded herself in the bedroom in a deep depression, her older sister, Nona, has run off to marry a rodeo star, and her father is scraping together every penny to keep the stable in business. Also, a classmate of Alice’s was found dead in a canal. A gray cloud hovers over Desert Valley and spirits are low.
I’d like to say that everything turns around and all is well in the end, but this book is so true to life that it would be disingenuous to tie up every loose end with a bow. The reality is that Alice is deeply lonely. Her mother is emotionally unavailable, her big sister abandoned her, and her father is entirely focused on the farm. What’s a young girl on the cusp of adulthood supposed to do with all that restless energy?
Whatever she wants, apparently.
There’s an inappropriate relationship with a teacher, the beating of a horse with a hammer, and an entourage of rich women who congregate in the stable to visit their horses and drink wine. Alice cannot make sense of any of it.
Of the books I’ve read so far this year, The God of Animals ranks high. The narrative is equally heartbreaking and beautiful. It may not be the most cheerful story, but that doesn’t mean is isn’t dripping with sentiment and relevance. This was Aryn Kyle’s first novel, born out of a short story called Foaling Season. Both were well-received. I’m not at all surprised.