Tuesday, August 26, 2008


by Kit Ehrman

This past week was an interesting one for me as far as reading goes. The sad truth about being a writer is that writing cuts into reading time in a huge way. Lately, I’m lucky to finish a book a month, but I gave in to temptation when a bookseller handed me an advance reader copy of SILKS written by the esteemed Dick Francis and his son Felix Francis. SILKS was a good, solid read--highly recommended for all Francis fans.

Then my sister lent me a debut novel, THE GOD OF ANIMALS by Aryn Kyle, and that’s the topic for today’s post. I was going to hold off reading another book so soon after SILKS, but I opened Kyle’s book--just to read the first page--and that was it. I was sucked in until the very end. This author’s skill blew me away.

THE GOD OF ANIMALS is a coming-of-age story featuring twelve-year-old Alice Winston. She and her family live on a horse ranch in the desert. The Winston ranch had been in the family for generations, and the family has fallen on hard times. Alice’s mother is severely depressed and rarely comes out of her room. Alice’s older sister, Nona, is a natural, gifted rider. Nona’s success in the show ring helped bring in clients, so when she runs off with a rodeo rider, the family has a harder time making ends meet, but more importantly, her leaving deeply hurts Alice. Then we have the father, a complicated individual to be sure. Eventually, he is forced to take in boarders, something he’d never done before. When his father hears of this, he likens it to “prostituting” the ranch.

Okay. What I found so compelling about THE GOD OF ANIMALS is Kyle’s wonderfully descriptive writing and her insight into human nature. The descriptions in this book are absolutely fantastic. Admittedly, there were errors when it came to horse details and a few believability problems, but I happily gave the author a pass. What was very difficult to read, however, was the abuse meted out in this book, the cruel training methods, etc. The abusive scenes were even that much harder to read because of Kyle’s gift for description.

I skimmed the reviews on Amazon, and readers either loved or hated this book. Period. And I can see why. Kyle unflinchingly examines the good and evil that we all possess, and she doesn’t feel she must give us a happy ending, but a realistic one. In a way, that was refreshing because life is messy.

If you read this book, the abuse will bother you. It’s meant to bother you. But this is the kind of read that will stay with you long after you reach The End.



Fran Jurga said...

I just read this book as well and had the same mixed reaction, but respect for the author's skill.

There's a Q and A with the author here:

and I remember a video of her at a riding arena on the publisher's web site, in case anyone wants to delve into her equestrian past.

I liked the imagery of the may flies clouding the already dark night when the horse gets loose, but mostly I was struck by the father's overt cruelty to the horse and the teacher's passive but persistent cruelty to the girl's psyche.

Put this one on your list to read: "Our Horses in Egypt" by Rosalind Belben. It just won a big literary prize in the UK. Amazing. I blogged about it the other day.

Keep reading and encouraging others to do so!

tierra said...

I thought it was an interesting read, as well. I didn't love the ending--but frankly, I can't remember why now. My favorite chapter was the first chapter--and I think I remember reading somewhere that she wrote it originally as a short story. The problem I had was her description of winning ribbons on a horse she couldn't even ride, as though the rider didn't influence the horse at all. As someone who shows horses, that sort of irritated me, although I thought the advice to keep her mind "blank" to overcome the fear of riding was interesting.

Jami Davenport said...


An author friend of mine told me that if readers both love your writing and hate your writing, that it's actually a good sign because you got through to them on some deeper level. If you're getting middle of the road responses then you aren't really getting to the reader. That sounds like the case of this book.

I'm not sure it's one I'll read, as I have a tendency to stick with happy endings. I read for fun, and I want to feel good when I'm done. if I want a dose of reality, I'll watch the news.

Regardless, it does sound like a very good book.