Book Review: The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle

Dawn Xiana Moon, originally published in Radiant Magazine

“Six months before Polly Cain drowned in the canal, my sister, Nona, ran off and married a cowboy.” Thus begins Aryn Kyle’s stunning debut, The God of Animals, the first chapter of which won an award for fiction when it was published in the Atlantic Monthly as a short story. And with good reason: Kyle’s prose is lucid, elegant, and an absolute pleasure to read.

Narrated by 12-year-old Alice Winston, the book chronicles the end of a way of life. Her high school-aged sister elopes with a man she barely knows, leaving Alice, her father and her emotionally fragile mother struggling. Their horse ranch teeters on the verge of bankruptcy and rich women invade the stables, excising the family’s show horses and their pride. Alice becomes entangled in a relationship with her English teacher that hinges on a friendship she never had. And all of their hopes are pinned on people who cannot bring the salvation they so desperately long for.

Kyle’s knowledgeable portrait explores pretense, the various guises of love, and above all, the complexities of human emotion. It’s well-crafted, engaging work.

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