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Bill Reed manages a wildlife sanctuary in rural Idaho, caring for injured animals raptors, a wolf, and his beloved bear, Majer, among them that are unable to survive in the wild. Seemingly rid of his troubled past, Bill hopes to marry the local veterinarian and live a quiet life together, the promise of which is threatened when a childhood friend is released from prison. Bill Reed manages a wildlife sanctuary in rural Idaho, caring for injured animals raptors, a wolf, and his beloved bear, Majer, among them that are unable to survive in the wild. Seemingly rid of his troubled past, Bill hopes to marry the local veterinarian and live a quiet life together, the promise of which is threatened when a childhood friend is released from prison. Suddenly forced to confront the secrets of his criminal youth, Bill battles fiercely to preserve the shelter that protects these wounded animals and to keep hidden his turbulent, even dangerous, history. Alternating between past and present, Christian Kiefer contrasts the wreckage of Bill's crime-ridden years in Reno, Nevada, with the elusive promise of a peaceful future. In finely sculpted prose imaginatively at odds with the harsh, volatile world Kiefer evokes, The Animals builds powerfully toward the revelation of Bill s defining betrayal and the drastic lengths Bill goes to in order to escape the consequences."


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Bill Reed manages a wildlife sanctuary in rural Idaho, caring for injured animals raptors, a wolf, and his beloved bear, Majer, among them that are unable to survive in the wild. Seemingly rid of his troubled past, Bill hopes to marry the local veterinarian and live a quiet life together, the promise of which is threatened when a childhood friend is released from prison. Bill Reed manages a wildlife sanctuary in rural Idaho, caring for injured animals raptors, a wolf, and his beloved bear, Majer, among them that are unable to survive in the wild. Seemingly rid of his troubled past, Bill hopes to marry the local veterinarian and live a quiet life together, the promise of which is threatened when a childhood friend is released from prison. Suddenly forced to confront the secrets of his criminal youth, Bill battles fiercely to preserve the shelter that protects these wounded animals and to keep hidden his turbulent, even dangerous, history. Alternating between past and present, Christian Kiefer contrasts the wreckage of Bill's crime-ridden years in Reno, Nevada, with the elusive promise of a peaceful future. In finely sculpted prose imaginatively at odds with the harsh, volatile world Kiefer evokes, The Animals builds powerfully toward the revelation of Bill s defining betrayal and the drastic lengths Bill goes to in order to escape the consequences."

30 review for The Animals

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Kiefers second novel contrasts wildness and civilization through the story of a man who runs an animal refuge to escape from his criminal past. What you have come for is death. The second-person address and sobering message make for a jolting start. A gritty opening sequence establishes themes that will be essential to the novel: the fine line between instincts and decisions, the moral dilemmas involved in environmentalism, and the seeming inescapability of violence. As the novel alternates Kiefer’s second novel contrasts wildness and civilization through the story of a man who runs an animal refuge to escape from his criminal past. “What you have come for is death.” The second-person address and sobering message make for a jolting start. A gritty opening sequence establishes themes that will be essential to the novel: the fine line between instincts and decisions, the moral dilemmas involved in environmentalism, and the seeming inescapability of violence. As the novel alternates between its two time periods, it sets up increasingly tense storylines. (Non-subscribers can read an excerpt of my full review at BookBrowse.) Related reading: • Want Not by Jonathan Miles • When the Killing’s Done by T.C. Boyle • The Heaven of Animals by David James Poissant

  2. 4 out of 5

    J.K. Grice

    I absolutely loved this book. Bill Reed is an excellent protagonist, quite flawed but you feel for the guy. THE ANIMALS is a novel about love, hope, redemption, and revenge. A poignant meditation on trying to live an independent life and yet also trying to escape the past. Christian Kiefer is one hell of a writer. Highly recommended.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Bonny

    The bad news is that I finished The Animals; the good news is that Christian Kiefer has written another novel that I'm racing to the library to get as soon as I finish writing this. I came across The Animals when I read the Kirkus review: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-re... I became slightly obsessed with finding the book to read right now and ended up buying an ARC on ebay. Even though I questioned my impatience at the time, the $17.99 I spent has provided me with more value than I would The bad news is that I finished The Animals; the good news is that Christian Kiefer has written another novel that I'm racing to the library to get as soon as I finish writing this. I came across The Animals when I read the Kirkus review: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-re... I became slightly obsessed with finding the book to read right now and ended up buying an ARC on ebay. Even though I questioned my impatience at the time, the $17.99 I spent has provided me with more value than I would have thought possible. Bill Reed runs a small wildlife sanctuary in Idaho where he cares for injured animals and has remade a life for himself after making some desperate and violent mistakes in Reno. These mistakes return to derail Bill when his friend Rick is released from prison. While the reader hopes for the peaceful continuation of the shelter Bill has built, both for his wounded animals and wounded self, Kiefer tells the gripping, powerful story with exquisite language. I honestly don't think I've ever read a novel with such a perfect combination of thoughtfulness, action, well-told story, and beautiful prose. I like to think of myself as a reader with a slightly above-average vocabulary, but Kiefer has an extraordinary vocabulary and ability to use the perfect word at the perfect time. I found myself dog-earing pages and underlining words so I could look them up. This was not disruptive, but rather added to my enjoyment of The Animals because I could picture graupel, zerk, Sphex, twayblades, tenebrous shapes, and talus. Recondite may be my new favorite self-referential word. I picture writers practicing their craft in isolation, but Christian Kiefer's acknowledgements dispel that notion. His research, conducted with books and many, many people, is extensive and seamlessly added to this novel. Kirkus Reviews says The Animals is “Devastatingly beautiful. This novel embodies why we write and why we read,” and I can't improve upon that truth.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Perry

    "Into the Distance A Ribbon of Black, Stretched to the Point of No Turning Back" [Pink Floyd, Learning to Fly, 1986] The dark past seems to be overtaking Bill Reed, who thought he'd escaped the consequences of his youthful past in Reno after he moved to rural Idaho and assumed a new identity. The novel travels back and forth from Reed's present peaceful plans for wedded bliss with the lovesome local veterinarian back in time to the events leading up to the major mistakes made in his youth. Mr. "Into the Distance A Ribbon of Black, Stretched to the Point of No Turning Back" [Pink Floyd, Learning to Fly, 1986] The dark past seems to be overtaking Bill Reed, who thought he'd escaped the consequences of his youthful past in Reno after he moved to rural Idaho and assumed a new identity. The novel travels back and forth from Reed's present peaceful plans for wedded bliss with the lovesome local veterinarian back in time to the events leading up to the major mistakes made in his youth. Mr. Kiefer is a master foreshadower, slowly heating up the tension, like a long fuse from the past to the present, until the tale reaches its combustible crescendo as the fuse burns up to the stick. The present day setting of Bill's sanctuary for injured wildlife provides a perfect contrast to his difficult environment as a boy who lost his dad then his older brother (to tragedy), ultimately leading to rather serious transgressions for which he has yet to pay penance. In attractive and often powerful prose, the tale reveals how the disastrous decisions of one's youth can be borne of a skewed survival instinct arising out of destitution, which in turn lead to irreparable relationships and, many times, to the "vicious cycle" of incarceration and recidivism. This rewarding literary suspense novel captivated my interest from the beginning, with a most thrilling final quarter, which includes a long and intense action sequence that I think stacks up well against some of the best in the suspense genre from the past several years. I enjoyed this novel immensely, and expect even more from Mr. Kiefer's next novel.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Wendy Cosin

    I have never selected a book to read based on a cocktail before. A local bookstore manager invented a Blind Bear in honor of The Animals, which he recommended highly, so I dutifully bought absinthe and mixed the drink after plucking the book from my replete shelf. The drink was ok; the book is very very good. I cant say it better than the Kirkus review: This is a novel about duality: the loyalty and betrayal of friendship; the freedom and imprisonment of the spririt; the wild connection between I have never selected a book to read based on a cocktail before. A local bookstore manager invented a Blind Bear in honor of The Animals, which he recommended highly, so I dutifully bought absinthe and mixed the drink after plucking the book from my replete shelf. The drink was ok; the book is very very good. I can’t say it better than the Kirkus review: “This is a novel about duality: the loyalty and betrayal of friendship; the freedom and imprisonment of the spririt; the wild connection between human and animal; the goodness and horror that live in each of us.” Others have summarized the story, so I won’t do that. People classify it as a literary thriller because it has a suspenseful story and beautifully written passages. For me, the best part of The Animals is the writing, whether about nature, weather, scenery, the connection between people and animals, gambling, or feelings. The story itself was both a little confusing for the first half due to its non-chronological structure, and ordinary and predictable in the second half. Regardless, in retrospect I think the structure is well-crafted. Here is one favorite passage when the main character rescues a wolf, whose foot is caught in a trap: “He imagined the pack swinging south out of British Columbia and dipping across a border that held no meaning to its motion, flowing as one through the dark wet trees and taking its prey when it could, a group of animals perfectly evolved to survive and their understanding of that world distinctly drawn to render all other concerns invisible. They would be like ghosts fading into and out of the forest, sawtooth ridgetops, silver water, the scent of prey upon the air. And you some separate and recondite creature residing in an entirely different world. What you see are threats and disasters and horrors the likes of which those ghosts could not even imagine, time flattened out of its circle and running in a thin sharp band, straight and level, and that faint bubble of world in which all animals run and hunt and graze eviscerated everywhere by its razored edge. You are a man standing inside one such bubble above the unconscious body of a ghost from another, watching its breath steam and the purple-tendoned gap in its foreleg continue to bleed out slowly against the snow.”

  6. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    I have an advance copy of this March 2015 title, and it is a winner. When I say it's a literary thriller, I'm not damning it with faint praise or saying it's betwixt and between; I mean that it's very literary (carefully wrought prose, poetic sensibility, deep characterizations of the protagonists; it's a book, not a "read") and that its very thrilling, with some suspense about the main character's story and a violent confrontation with very real danger, and not just danger of the emotional I have an advance copy of this March 2015 title, and it is a winner. When I say it's a literary thriller, I'm not damning it with faint praise or saying it's betwixt and between; I mean that it's very literary (carefully wrought prose, poetic sensibility, deep characterizations of the protagonists; it's a book, not a "read") and that its very thrilling, with some suspense about the main character's story and a violent confrontation with very real danger, and not just danger of the emotional variety. The protagonist is Bill Reed, who has carved out a life somewhere in rural Idaho where he runs an animal rescue teeming with all kinds of wild animals that can't live in the wild: a bear, a mountain lion, a bobcat, and smaller, less threatening ones as well. It's a kind of zoo, but it's a labor of love, or penance, for Reed, as the book slowly but surely makes clear. Set mostly in the late 1990s, the action flashes back to the mid 1980s and Reed's growing up years in Reno, Nevada, actions and events that come to the foreground of the course of this long, exciting novel. I am not just a sucker for narrative, I demand it, and I loved this book. It's intense, and scary, and poetic, and wise. I don't want to write anything that might spoil the plot or the experience of reading the book, but I want to quote a few bits that show just what a fine writer Kiefer is: page 155: And for the first time you understand that everyone is a killer, here in the forest, in the desert from which you have come, indeed perhaps the world itself nothing more than a vast field for the dealing out of death, some odds so slight as to be impossible to gauge at all. page 166-7: In the months that follow, it feels at times as if you have given up everything, and you come to understand that gambling kept you believing, against all reality, that there was a possibility of change, that you might one day be levered up and of yourself, but now that sense of weird and groundless optimism is gone. You do not know if you can live without it. And near the very end of this fine book (page 294): There were things in the world he would never understand. The rules men created to guide them through their lives were little more than guesses meant to fill whatever purpose they could imagine for themselves. Sagebrush and poverty weed. Ground squirrel and pronghorn antelope. Grizzly and wolf and raccoon. All designed to perform a function. But the universe held its workings in secret and a man could claim nothing from that voice and instead would need to design in that obscure and private place that is his heart the laws that would govern his life. The clouds a blur of unrecognizable shapes without meaning or purpose. Only function. His had been to survive in the world he had chosen for himself. And he had succeeded. There was no law simpler than that and when he wept it was for himself and himself alone. Terrific novel.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    In the devastating first pages of The Animals, we meet the quintessential likable character Bill Reed, a sensitive loner who devotes his life to caring for gravely injured or mangled animals in the isolated Idaho backlands. Hes everyones idea of a hero: saving animal lives, keeping company with the local veterinarian and acting as dad to her young son, and living a principled life on his own terms. But through a series of flashbacks, we discover that Bill is not all he seems. Hes on the run from In the devastating first pages of The Animals, we meet the quintessential likable character – Bill Reed, a sensitive loner who devotes his life to caring for gravely injured or mangled animals in the isolated Idaho backlands. He’s everyone’s idea of a hero: saving animal lives, keeping company with the local veterinarian and acting as dad to her young son, and living a principled life on his own terms. But through a series of flashbacks, we discover that Bill is not all he seems. He’s on the run from a less-than-pristine past, where he and his best friend, Rick, got into all kinds of trouble. Rick did his time in the Big House; Bill fled and recreated himself in Idaho. And the questions at the core of this novel are: what price survival? What are the moral laws that govern our lives? It’s easy enough to manipulate sympathy by mining the human/animal relationship. And very occasionally, Christian Kiefer crosses that line. (One example is Bill’s musings about the animals: “They had saved him and he would do the same for them.” We see him tending the blind grizzly Majer, feeding him marshmallows and earning his trust…or the wild injured wolf, Zeke, whose confidence is harder to earn. We get it: there is a very real connection between human and animal and we are never more in tune with ourselves than when we connect with our animal nature. And deep down, we know where this story is heading. Or do we? Christian Kiefer raises issues that, days later, I am still thinking about. What makes a person a “good person” – when he “cares for his people” or when he does his best to shed an ugly past and move on? What does freedom really mean? Is it better to be alive and caged or enjoy total freewill with the probability that death is around the corner? Mr. Kiefer writes, “The universe held its workings in secret and a man could claim nothing from that void and instead would need to design in that obscure and private place that is his heart the laws that would govern his life.” I recognize some of the minor flaws in this book. But still, I found it heartbreaking and shattering. This is a thriller but it’s also a thinking person’s book that is hard to put down…and twice as hard to forget.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Julianne (Outlandish Lit)

    There's nothing better than a book that surprises you. When I started reading this I was sort of in a phase where I was over books about guys having feelings about things and not doing much. I wanted aliens is basically what I was trying to say. But The Animals roped me right back into literary fiction. Not only was it beautifully written, it was thrilling, page-turning, and ultimately heartbreaking. At the beginning of the book, it's sort of hard to place the characters within a time or place. There's nothing better than a book that surprises you. When I started reading this I was sort of in a phase where I was over books about guys having feelings about things and not doing much. I wanted aliens is basically what I was trying to say. But The Animals roped me right back into literary fiction. Not only was it beautifully written, it was thrilling, page-turning, and ultimately heartbreaking. At the beginning of the book, it's sort of hard to place the characters within a time or place. The narrative jumps around a bit, but it's so gratifying when you begin to figure out why that is and who is who. Over time the past of our main character, Bill, is revealed to us. Bill is such a down to earth guy and he's struggling to do so much good with his animal sanctuary (which is facing enormous pressure from more bureaucratic forces). It's hard to imagine what could possibly have Bill in trouble with his childhood friend who just got released from jail. And figuring it out is so riveting. Christian Kiefer writes some absolutely gorgeous prose and raises some interesting moral questions about what being good means and how much of the past should be forgiven. He had me completely wrapped up in his story and I was sad to leave. Oh, and it totally made me cry. His depiction of the strong bond that humans and animals can have is probably the most realistic I've ever encountered. If you're looking for a dark, raw, emotional literary thriller, look no further. Full review: http://outlandishlit.blogspot.com/201...

  9. 5 out of 5

    GeneralTHC

    3.25-stars This turned out to be a pretty good book, but I got to be frank: the first half sucked. At one point, I was actually considering abandoning it. I'm glad I didn't, though. I'm no fan of the format the author employed to tell this story: alternating chapters of the past and present. That's so overdone, I think. Though, I should give this guy some credit: he did a good job in the second half of wringing out every last bit of advantage the format offers, and ended up with a pretty solid 3.25-stars This turned out to be a pretty good book, but I got to be frank: the first half sucked. At one point, I was actually considering abandoning it. I'm glad I didn't, though. I'm no fan of the format the author employed to tell this story: alternating chapters of the past and present. That's so overdone, I think. Though, I should give this guy some credit: he did a good job in the second half of wringing out every last bit of advantage the format offers, and ended up with a pretty solid literary fiction book about the path of a couple men’s lives, and what I often think of as the human condition.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Jeffers

    This book kind of felt like the weirdly verbose, hypermasculine love child of a Hawthorne novel and a Hemingway novel. It was interesting and compelling but, I actually stopped reading towards the end because (view spoiler)[ there's a scene in which all of the titular animals are murdered. (hide spoiler)] That's something I just can't do. I realized what was going to happen and I skimmed the last forty pages or so. I think it's a good book otherwise, an interesting character study that others This book kind of felt like the weirdly verbose, hypermasculine love child of a Hawthorne novel and a Hemingway novel. It was interesting and compelling but, I actually stopped reading towards the end because (view spoiler)[ there's a scene in which all of the titular animals are murdered. (hide spoiler)] That's something I just can't do. I realized what was going to happen and I skimmed the last forty pages or so. I think it's a good book otherwise, an interesting character study that others will surely love.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    My book club was divided about empathy for the two childhood friends, Rick and Nat, and it was fascinating to hear each person's reasoning in favor of the character for whom she had the most compassion. It's always a joy to read and discuss a work of literary fiction that provokes spirited, diverse reactions. Kiefer is an exquisite writer, full of descriptive language that evokes the western U.S. settings that he describes (Reno, Nevada, Battle Mountain, and rural Idaho). Kiefer also depicts the My book club was divided about empathy for the two childhood friends, Rick and Nat, and it was fascinating to hear each person's reasoning in favor of the character for whom she had the most compassion. It's always a joy to read and discuss a work of literary fiction that provokes spirited, diverse reactions. Kiefer is an exquisite writer, full of descriptive language that evokes the western U.S. settings that he describes (Reno, Nevada, Battle Mountain, and rural Idaho). Kiefer also depicts the animals in the wildlife sanctuary in a language and style that shows that he didn't just do his research homework; he also cares for and closely observes wildlife and the natural world. One chapter narrated from the POV of the grizzly bear, Majer, is especially moving and beautiful. He grapples with so many issues that resonate - poverty, loneliness, the meaning of friendship, whether those who struggle ever have real choices or a way out of their personal dilemmas. He put a lot of thought into point-of-view (parts of the book are narrated in the second person, and it's fluid and seamless), and the ending is enigmatic and ambiguous enough to feel conclusive to those who read it in different ways. The novel is also an excellent character study; these are not people a reader would necessarily wish to get to know, yet they are understandable in their motivations even when they are making horrible choices. Some of the more visceral details were disturbing to many of us, yet we all agreed that this was a very discussable book. If you've read and appreciated Tim Johnston's Descent, Tom Franklin's Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, William Kent Krueger's Ordinary Grace, or Lin Enger's The High Divide, you will find this of similar quality and appreciate the caliber and craftsmanship of Christian Kiefer's work.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    Christian Kiefer writes the kinds of novels I want to read: stories of people in conflict with life, and, perhaps more profoundly, with themselves. "The Animals" is the story of one such person endeavoring as best he can to outrun his past, to build a new life after one of hardship, addiction, and questionable decisions. While the plot is arguably relatively straightforward (though rendered dynamic by shifts in time and point of view), the story has a keen eye and true concern for character, as Christian Kiefer writes the kinds of novels I want to read: stories of people in conflict with life, and, perhaps more profoundly, with themselves. "The Animals" is the story of one such person endeavoring as best he can to outrun his past, to build a new life after one of hardship, addiction, and questionable decisions. While the plot is arguably relatively straightforward (though rendered dynamic by shifts in time and point of view), the story has a keen eye and true concern for character, as well as for the circumstances and expediencies that seem possibly to determine behavior. In fact, the theme of fate vs. free will runs subtly throughout the novel, with Bill Reed's choices and decisions ever up for interpretation. All of this is presented in Kiefer's beautifully lyrical style, his writing maintaining a deft blend of genuine suspense and a power of description and penetrating eye for detail and setting that captures the hardscrabble world of its characters in terms both terse and more broad and decidedly rich and elegant. "The Animals" functions as both realism and something like a fairy tale, its two main characters both very much characters in their own right but also doubles, aspects of one another. The implications for survival – or death, which, as the novel's opening sentence suggests, we "have come for" – are significant, as is the nature of survival: whether or not it's even possible, what it might require, what it might mean to survive, and what its costs might be. Overall, a deeply felt and thought-provoking novel from an excellent writer, and very highly recommended.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Keely

    Powerful, powerful, powerful book. So good. Perfect. If you're not initially interested in the description of the plot or the reviews, let me say that this book is worth reading because of the writing. Specifically, the poetic description of the inner workings of the characters hearts and minds that we are privy to, and the cinematic observations of physical environment/setting are enough reason alone to read this book. It's as though the author pulls a part of you, the reader, out of your Powerful, powerful, powerful book. So good. Perfect. If you're not initially interested in the description of the plot or the reviews, let me say that this book is worth reading because of the writing. Specifically, the poetic description of the inner workings of the characters hearts and minds that we are privy to, and the cinematic observations of physical environment/setting are enough reason alone to read this book. It's as though the author pulls a part of you, the reader, out of your psyche, and weaves your emotions and thoughts into lives that we forget are fictional; parallel lives that we could've lived, people we could've been, someone we know or know of. The craftsmanship with which he tells this story is so far beyond my degree of analytical prowess that it was far easier to chuck my intellect and immerse myself in the fiction-I-kept-forgetting-was-fiction. It's so good because somehow there's a part of us in it; all of us. It's deep. It goes back and forth between early events and "present time" (mid/late 1990s), so let yourself have a weekend with the novel. Though easy (and intriguing) to follow, you'll enjoy surrendering to this tale all the more if you just turn off your phone, hide from the neighbors, lock the door, and send the kids to grandma's for the weekend. Put the kettle on and curl up with The Animals. I walked away with wisdom. I walked away with grace. I walked away with a deeper, stronger heart. And I walked away with peace.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Toshi

    This was an incredible book. Having just come off a Faulkner binge (Light in August, Sound and Fury, and As I Lay Dying), my reading expectations were high. Kiefer did not disappoint. I do not make this comparison lightly. This book is that level of good writing. In my opinion, The Animals is a tour de force of modern american pathos: our disconnection, our deep and secret guilt, our desire for redemption, and ultimately our need to survive it all. This novel is gut wrenching and beautiful, each This was an incredible book. Having just come off a Faulkner binge (Light in August, Sound and Fury, and As I Lay Dying), my reading expectations were high. Kiefer did not disappoint. I do not make this comparison lightly. This book is that level of good writing. In my opinion, The Animals is a tour de force of modern american pathos: our disconnection, our deep and secret guilt, our desire for redemption, and ultimately our need to survive it all. This novel is gut wrenching and beautiful, each line of prose slides by you barely noticed but full for portent. Kiefer is an amazing craftsman. Read this book.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kc Giannini

    Nope. Not a book I enjoyed at all. I didn't find the characters likable (although maybe that was the point). I didn't find the setting interesting. I didn't like the tone, pace or narration. The animals didn't even save this book. This book was the first book of the year that I really struggled through. I finished it in a week just to hurry up and be done with it.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Josh Lacy

    This book is beautifully written, it will make you want to savor every sentence, reread them a couple of times, and let them tumble around in your head. I don't think I'll ever finish this book, because when I finish a chapter, I go back and reread it. I've read the first chapter alone 15 times. Go buy this book and enjoy a quality of writing that ascends mere storytelling into the world of art.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Leah Bayer

    This is basically everything I wanted The Wolf Border to be. Animal & human storylines that actually parallel each other, rich writing, wonderful characters, a compelling plot... just amazing.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Buhs

    What's here is good--conventional, though dressed up not to be: selfishly, I just wanted something different. [Note the review has some spoilers, but, really, the tale's structure is such that nothing in it should come as a surprise. The conclusion may be tragic, but a large part of that tragedy is its predicability from about 1/4 of the way into the book.] At its heart, Christian Kiefer's is an old-fashioned noir tale: a man is haunted by the sins of his past, which burden him even as he keep What's here is good--conventional, though dressed up not to be: selfishly, I just wanted something different. [Note the review has some spoilers, but, really, the tale's structure is such that nothing in it should come as a surprise. The conclusion may be tragic, but a large part of that tragedy is its predicability from about 1/4 of the way into the book.] At its heart, Christian Kiefer's is an old-fashioned noir tale: a man is haunted by the sins of his past, which burden him even as he keep them and his emotions bottled up, trying desperately to make a new life for himself. But that's the thing about ghosts: they haunt. And so his past inevitably catches up with him, putting the small life of love he has constructed in danger. Kiefer decorates this basic tale in several ways, some of which are more successful than others. One is an intense, introspective language. In the acknowledgments he notes that Richard Ford is one of his literary heroes, and there are strong echoes of Ford here--though to be fair I cannot really draw the parallels, because I have only ever read one of Ford's books, and that was only a few chapters of the Sports Writer, before I wanted to stab myself in the eye with a fork. Obviously, then, I wasn't a big fan of the lush introspection. (Edan Lupecki was, though: and I'm not fan of her work, either.) Things were not looking good for me early on. Another technique he used, more successfully, was the shifting perspective. We were almost always in the main character's head--name withheld, on purpose--but Kiefer moved between third person-limited and second person perspectives that worked for a couple of reasons. One was that it let the narrative breathe a bit, liberating the reader from the intense introspection, bordering on self-pity. The other was--at the same time, the second-person perspective implicated the reader in the crimes and decision-making of the main character. Which was a neat trick because the main character--necessarily for this kind of story--made a lot of bad decisions. Kiefer was good at limning the thought processes and emotional complexity of addiction in a few short passages. And because he had shifted perspectives, it was hard for this reader, at least, to sit in judgment of the character. Finally, the shifting set up Kiefer's biggest gamble, late int he book, when he narrates the story from a perspective of a caged and--SPOILER--dying bear. The overt use of symbolism finally raises the book above the usual standard of noir books--but does not necessarily make it better. Just more self-consciously literary. The book si called "The Animals" for a reason: the main character's life is symbolized his thoughts on animals--and there are some attempts to suggest that this symbolism should be interpreted more generally. As a boy, he is intrigued by animal shows, and learns the names of animals, seeing in the interaction with them some way of becoming a man, when all of his male role models, his father, his older brother, his best friend's father, are gone. It helps that a distant uncle sends him a book on the ecology of the inter-montane West. (He lives in Nevada, and later moves to Idaho.) But his path to manhood is deflected by the stupid things he does in his late teens and early twenties--and which have him fleeing north to Idaho, where he takes over his uncle's decrepit animal refuge cum zoo. When the story starts, though, we learn first that his job has him killing animals, rather than saving them, and that the government wants to shut him down: manhood is not what he thought it would be. Indeed, it's mostly about keeping the animals in cages, even as the world wants to deny him. That is to say, the animal refuge is meant as a metaphor for his own emotional situation, the cramped masculinity of the noir story, curdled. (There's an obvious comparison here: so often males in our society are described as alpha or beta, based on the supposed social organization of wolves. I say supposed because wolves only really display strongly hierarchical behavior in the unnatural conditions of captivity. So American masculinity is modeled on animals which are caged. Kiefer never mentions any of this, but it seems apposite.) The metaphor can be too stark. Toward the end of the book--SPOILER--he chooses to let the animals go, but only after they have been literally poisoned by his past. And he burns the book to survive. I can imagine this book finding a home in high school classes, where teachers and students can spend time explicating the way the metaphor unspools. The presence of the metaphor isn't bad--it deepens the book--but it isn't necessarily good, either. It just is. The reason the metaphorical parallel isn't good, in my opinion, is that Kiefer seems to promise more in the acknowledgments. (I know: who reads the acknowledgments.) He talks about wanting to write about the thorny philosophical problem of human-animal relations. And he cites a lot of research. Kiefer's a writing teacher at American River College. I did a year of study there, and live in the same general area he does. He talked with some of the people at the Folsom Zoo Sanctuary, which I volunteered at. These connections, I thought, were interesting to me personally, and forced me to overcome the slow, Fordian start (and the Edan Lupecki praise on the back). I didn't really care about all of the research he did--the more I age, the more I do not care how "factual" fiction is, and, indeed, an ever more drawn to fiction that takes pride in not being factual at all. But I thought an investigation of the animal-human relationship could be worthwhile. The problem is, there isn't really such an investigation. Kiefer hints at the possibility, but pulls back from it--he wanted to write a noir novel with a metaphorical parallel, I wanted something. The animals of the story are, for the most part barely described. (Many are named, however.) They are symbols, only. At one point, near the middle, there's a debate between the main character and a bar tender over whether animals should be released to live their lives, even if that means certain death--even if it means certain death at the hands of humans--and the parallel with how a man should treat his emotions is clear. But it's not really about animals. The closes Kiefer gets to investigating the link between humans and animals seems to be to say that the curdled masculinity of American society takes itself out on the bodies of animals, which are abused by our culture. That's a fair enough point, but I wanted Kiefer to turn await from just documenting cramped masculinity. That was part of the problem with the first part of the book--Oh, God, not another emotionally constipated male character. You can't swing a dead cat in American literature without hitting a dozen of 'em! But as the story went on, and the narrative found some room to breathe, I wasn't quite so bothered, and was fascinated by the plot. I allowed that Kiefer just was going to document the phenomena--but to really do so he needed to get outside of it, too, and he never did. Every time I thought we might be free, he dove back in again. And that was the failure--that was where I saw the book I wanted disappear. Because having all these animals--these creatures completely alien to such concepts as American masculinity--was a way for Kiefer to get beyond it and look at masculinity from the outside, too: from a completely different perspective. The closest he got was when he told the story from the bear's perspective, but even that wasn't as much as it could have been. [There were a few women and a kid in the book, but they were peripheral, mostly there to show that the main character had connections--and, in the world of noir, that means vulnerabilities. They could not be used to gain a different perspective in the book, because they were window-dressing.] There is one other aspect of Kiefer's narrative choice that deserves comment. He chose to write about near-poor, working-class people. This is not a common decision by writers recently. It seems like every mainstream novel is about people in unusual, artsy jobs who are, nevertheless, remarkably successful and therefore above concerns about paychecks. (She's a world-renowned potter; he's a rock guitarist.) I blame all the MFA programs, which seem to emphasize "quirky" and encourage authors to pick a character's career so that the author can go in mind-numbing detail about its practices, proving just how much research they did. Kiefer, for all the mentions of his research in the back matter of the book, hides it well in the narrative, and writes about the kind of characters no one else seems concerned with anymore. So, in all, it was a good read: the basic story was complicated and yet also familiar, the characters believable and worth caring about. For all my quibbles, I liked the book, and if Goodreads allowed it, would give it 4.5 stars.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Samuel Snoek-Brown

    It's hard to praise the powerful story Kiefer tells in this novel without spoiling the plot -- each chapter peels back layers of truths and untruths in such a carefully crafted way that I can't say much more about the story than the book jacket does without ruining the experience of peeling back those layers for yourself. Some will find that process frustrating, but I loved the hard reality of it. What I can praise openly, though, is the prose. Kiefer is a master stylist, crafting gorgeous It's hard to praise the powerful story Kiefer tells in this novel without spoiling the plot -- each chapter peels back layers of truths and untruths in such a carefully crafted way that I can't say much more about the story than the book jacket does without ruining the experience of peeling back those layers for yourself. Some will find that process frustrating, but I loved the hard reality of it. What I can praise openly, though, is the prose. Kiefer is a master stylist, crafting gorgeous sentences and revealing rich detail. His work with characters is solid, but his work with the environment -- with the natural world, landscape and wildlife -- is stunning, not just for the rhythms of the language but also, especially, for how he uses that beautifully wrought environment to reveal more about the lives of his characters than even they seemed aware of. For me, the writing here was inspiring: I actually took longer to finish reading this book because Kiefer's beautiful prose kept sending me to work on my own novel -- he set a bar I wanted to rise to. An excellent book by a masterful writer.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Cherilyn

    This novel is astonishing. It reminded me of Cormac McCarthy in exploring violence and connection and in weaving a mesmerizing spell with language. I kept reading quickly because I was in a dream state, but then I also kept going back over the sentences because they were so exquisite. Others have written here about the story, so I'll just add a note on how powerful the sense of place was in the novel: the snowy woods, the desert, the bars. It all feels very real to me even as I've closed the book This novel is astonishing. It reminded me of Cormac McCarthy in exploring violence and connection and in weaving a mesmerizing spell with language. I kept reading quickly because I was in a dream state, but then I also kept going back over the sentences because they were so exquisite. Others have written here about the story, so I'll just add a note on how powerful the sense of place was in the novel: the snowy woods, the desert, the bars. It all feels very real to me even as I've closed the book -- as if I lived it, as if it's memory, because it was so completely absorbing. I wouldn't normally be attracted to a novel about two guys running from the law, one sprung from prison, the other managing an animal sanctuary. I don't generally go for guy novels or those set in Western deserts or wildernesses. But I couldn't put this book down. Highly recommended.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Garrett

    Brutally honest and straightforward and encapsulated in terms of philosophy by its construction and relentless progression toward its final events and lines, this book is not fun by any stretch, but it is really meaty and emotional without being melodramatic. The author has decided not to use the formal convention of quotation marks or any other traditional punctuation in order to indicate dialogue, and this serves to flatten all of the emotion that might be normally contained in certain Brutally honest and straightforward and encapsulated in terms of philosophy by its construction and relentless progression toward its final events and lines, this book is not fun by any stretch, but it is really meaty and emotional without being melodramatic. The author has decided not to use the formal convention of quotation marks or any other traditional punctuation in order to indicate dialogue, and this serves to flatten all of the emotion that might be normally contained in certain interactions. I found this to be a big help, due to where this story goes. Some ambiguous animal rights thinking here; not everyone will be okay with their treatment or individual fates. The book is messy, like life, with the past intruding upon the present, and it works.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    I'm wavering between 2 and 3 stars for this one, but will err on the side of "liked it". It's a good enough story. I think I just found the main character, Bill/Nat, too passive. Yes, he's got baggage from his childhood, but I was annoyed with his attitude of just wanting everything bad to go away. Yawn. I ended up skimming through a lot of pages, and I'm not particularly a fan of leaving out quotation marks and the ambiguous dialogues that result. It felt like the author was trying too hard.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Blake Steele

    The language, assembly of plot, and uniqueness of setting are what set this novel apart from others of the same genre. Kiefer leaves a trail of breadcrumbs that do not completely reveal the outcome of events until the very end. The in depth research of all elements in this book are evident which allows a complete immersion into the novel. I now have a gambling addiction thanks to this book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jim Laughren

    The story has potential... it's just not particularly well-written, certainly far from compelling. Heavy on the purple prose; The Animals seems like a extended student exercise. The author gets caught up in devices and cliches which, in too many parts, make it a tiresome read. Find something else, there are too many wonderfully written books to spend time on B- efforts.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Eileen Mcclellan

    An extremely well written book.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Renée Roehl

    Way interesting structure to the book as the author takes nice risks, POV-wise; in parts Kiefer chooses second person POV, which is not that common, and it works well. The back and forth in time was pretty patterned but this also works as the book turns out to be a literary thriller. How fun! There are too many things to say about what this book tackles concerning the human condition of relationships with animals, love relationships and especially male to male connections where Kiefer dove deep, Way interesting structure to the book as the author takes nice risks, POV-wise; in parts Kiefer chooses second person POV, which is not that common, and it works well. The back and forth in time was pretty patterned but this also works as the book turns out to be a literary thriller. How fun! There are too many things to say about what this book tackles concerning the human condition of relationships with animals, love relationships and especially male to male connections where Kiefer dove deep, as in the bond between Bill and Rick (childhood friend), and those two combined with Bill's brother. Other emotional ties are not fleshed out or were depicted traditionally, particularly with the women. His portrayal of the gentle and fierce bond between animals and humans I thought was right on, something often not shown in books about men. The book has many surprises and turns that astound, beautifully written, even if you somehow knew something was coming. Animals are present in many ways--literally, symbolically, metaphorically--from the beginning to the end. I found the end a *bit* too movie-like in the suspense, yet some of the aspects of these scenes expanded even further the growth of Bill. This story is tender, powerful, emotional, edgy. If you like Richard Ford--and I do--I suspect you'll enjoy this book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tess

    Both Kiefer's physical and emotional landscapes are visceral. The sense of place here is riveting, including the mindscape of a captive grizzly bear. THE ANIMALS is a story of the unimaginable turns friendship can take. Do read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Stefani

    Whoa. Loved this one.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Drew

    That was intense!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Roxy

    Just.. powerful. Im going to have to digest this for awhile. Just.. powerful. I’m going to have to digest this for awhile.

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