War Against the Animals
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War Against the Animals

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by Paul Russell
     
 

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Widely praised for his deft prose and brilliant characterizations, Paul Russell has become increasingly regarded as one of the finest contemporary American novelists. Now, with War Against the Animals, he returns with his richest, most accomplished, and most compelling work yet.

Living in small town in upstate New York, middle-aged Cameron Barnes has,

Overview

Widely praised for his deft prose and brilliant characterizations, Paul Russell has become increasingly regarded as one of the finest contemporary American novelists. Now, with War Against the Animals, he returns with his richest, most accomplished, and most compelling work yet.

Living in small town in upstate New York, middle-aged Cameron Barnes has, after almost dying, recently recovered a measure of health and is trying to find a way to reenter the world outside. As part of this, Cameron hires two local brothers in their early twenties, Jesse and Kyle, to renovate a barn on his property. Kyle sees an opportunity in Cameron, pushing his brother Jesse to befriend him and take advantage of Cameron's boredom and directionlessness.
Caught between the opposing worlds embodied by Cameron and Kyle, Jesse is torn by the demands of his brother, the expectations of his family and community, and his own mix of volatile, contradictory emotions.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Culture clash and unlikely lovers have jump-started a lot of great plots. Yes, you probably know what's going to happen, but if the writing is as richly compassionate as Paul Russell's is in his new novel, War Against the Animals , predictable feels more like perfection. — Caroline Leavitt
Publishers Weekly
Russell (The Coming Storm, etc.) eloquently explores the divide between gay and straight culture in his latest novel, a thoughtful, provocative study of an attraction that develops between an upscale, retired garden designer who is HIV-positive and a young redneck in a fast-changing upstate New York community. Cameron Barnes is the Manhattan transplant who thinks his love life is over after surviving the barrage of illnesses that come with full-blown AIDS, but Barnes's quiet, idyllic life in Stone Hollow is disrupted when he hires a pair of young brothers, Kyle and Jesse Vanderhof, to fix his dilapidated barn. Initially, Barnes has little contact with the brothers, but a strange attraction slowly develops between the former landscaper and Jesse, who is more sensitive and open-minded than his crude older brother. The backdrop for the romance is a struggle to control the town and its values, filtered through the prism of a mayoral election in which the leader of the powerful Vanderhof clan, Roy, battles a close friend of Cameron's named Max Greenblatt, who represents the interests of the rapidly growing liberal gay community. Russell is a patient, masterful narrator, dexterously alternating scenes featuring Cameron and his gay friends, Jesse grappling with his sexuality and Jesse's controlling brother's scheme to extract money from Cameron. In the hands of a lesser writer, this might have been a clumsy, obvious book, but Russell's compassionate, insightful prose illuminates the differences that help define us under the umbrella of community as well as the sparks that fly when boundaries are violated. Agent, Harvey Klinger. (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Cameron Barnes, a middle-aged gay landscape architect living outside a small town in the shadow of the Catskills, hires brothers Kyle and Jesse Vanderhof to renovate his gardening shed. Recovering from the end of a long relationship and struggling with AIDS, Cameron finds himself staring longingly at the young Jesse. Eager to take advantage financially of Cameron's interest in Jesse, homophobic Kyle coerces his younger brother into befriending the gay man. Jesse's sexual confusion (including his guilt over having been sexually exploited as a teenager), his lack of interest in his girlfriend, and his physical attraction to Kyle is exposed as his friendship with Cameron grows. Jesse's inner conflicts mirror tensions in the town of Stone Hollow itself, as its traditions are challenged by an influx of gay residents and by the mayoral campaign of Max Greenblatt, Cameron's oldest gay friend. In his fifth novel, Russell (The Salt Point) successfully reworks his familiar themes of homosexual coming of age, intergenerational relationships, and sexually charged violence. Given its strong character development, fine writing, compelling plot, and riveting climax, this novel will have crossover appeal beyond a gay readership. Recommended for larger fiction collections.-Joseph M. Eagan, Enoch Pratt Free Lib., Baltimore Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The collision of small-town phobias and high-priced realities. In search of a relatively stable bucolic environment, Cameron Barnes, a gay Manhattan-via-Memphis landscape designer suffering from AIDS, has moved upstate to Stone Hollow, the stomping ground of various rednecks, good ol' boys, and gays fleeing the metropolis, in order to relieve himself of the "neighborhoods too haunted with the ghosts of the dead" and live out a peaceful, loveless existence. His companion and lover, Dan, has recently left. Max, his best friend since Oberlin, is unwilling to let Cameron sink slothfully into hermitage, and though busying himself with a run for Mayor, takes time to set Cameron up with an HIV-positive graphic designer and to ridicule, passively, Cameron's emotionally fatigued existence. Enter Jesse and Kyle Vanderhof, two brothers from the backwoods who've recently lost their father to liver cancer. Taking over Pop's construction business, the two are hired on by Cameron to fix up a back shed. After an initial mix of stereotypical gay-bashing, racism, and redneck cartooning, Kyle and Jesse become rather lyrical and intimately drawn characters. Kyle is unruly, vindictive and conniving, while Jesse has a quiet and confused resentfulness-and it's Jesse whose thoughts are followed closely. Cameron is intrigued by Jesse, who vacillates between parroting his brother's thickheaded views and acting, with uneasy sensitivity, according to his own discoveries. At first, Russell (The Coming Storm, 1999, etc.) has difficulty reaching the high note of Cameron's cultured dialogue and then shifting to the boys' tough vernacular, but this disconnect eventually smoothes itself out. After milking several advanceson their construction project, Kyle convinces Jesse that they may be able to make a profit off Cameron's apparent intrigue with Jesse. Jesse agrees-but for his own clandestine purpose. Thematically in tow with Russell's previous five efforts (cosmopolitan male meets boy from sticks; bad things happen), this coming-of-age/end-of-life story discovers its own distinction through precise writing (mostly) and memorable people. Bittersweet and worthwhile.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312335397
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
09/06/2004
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
919,222
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.82(d)

Read an Excerpt

WAR AGAINST THE ANIMALS (Chapter 1)

He had promised to have Max and Perry over for dinner as soon as Dan was gone. Nothing elaborate, only a quiet commemoration, wake, celebration, exorcism—whatever might best describe the occasion. Thus, on a bright evening early in June, Cameron Barnes watched as his two best friends left in the world made their way across his lawn to the front porch where he stood waiting.

"Hiya, beautiful," said Max, kissing him on the lips. "I have to say, you're looking awfully well."

"And I'm feeling awfully well," Cameron allowed as Perry, in turn, embraced him, pecking him lightly on the cheek and enveloping him momentarily in sweet cologne. "In fact, I'm feeling rather extraordinary these days."

But perhaps "extraordinary" should be explained, he thought. He didn't want to alarm anyone.

"I mean," he continued, "extraordinary in a good way."

"We brought you this," Perry said, unwrapping from a soaked towel a bottle of wine. "I tried to keep it cool on the way over."

"Of course, we had to have a fight about it," Max said.

"He thought we should just bring red. I told him no, we'd stick it in a bucket of ice water and that'd keep it cold."

"Now we have water all over the backseat."

"Honey, nobody drinks red wine in the summer. Please. Summer's for white wine, gin and tonics, mint juleps..."

"You hate mint juleps," Max reminded his boyfriend.

Cameron found the sheer ordinariness of their bickering oddly pleasing. "Actually, I don't know a single southerner who likes mint juleps," he ventured, accepting from his fellow southerner the perspiring bottle and motioning both his guests indoors.

Their entrance startled a black cat crouched on the dinner table, amid plates and silverware and candlesticks. "Diva," Cameron said sternly. "What are you thinking?"

The creature paused for a second, then leapt down from the table and disappeared soundlessly into the kitchen.

"She's just living up to her name," Perry purred after her.

"Never make the mistake of adopting a female cat," Cameron said. "Unless, of course, something happens to me. Then she's all yours. Casper too, of course."

"Nothing's going to happen to you," Max said.

"Well, I want something to happen. Anyway, I should have timed all this better. I haven't cooked a dinner in so long. Everything's ready already. I hope it's not too gauche just to sit down and eat."

"Shall I open the wine?" Perry suggested. "Cameron, will you have some?"

"Of course. My doctor says I can have a drink from time to time, no problem."

"Excellent," said Perry, who did not need to know that Cameron resorted, on occasion, to Stoli and orange juice to help the pills go down.

From the kitchen Cameron brought roasted chicken, cold asparagus vinaigrette, mashed potatoes. In the old days, Dan would sometimes spend a whole day preparing a dinner for guests. He'd been a master of intricate menus: Cameron still shuddered to recall the mousselines de grenouilles. Even when it was just the two of them, Dan would commandeer the kitchen, relegating Cameron, who'd always rather enjoyed cooking, to chopping an occasional vegetable or tossing the salad.

"Lovely," said Max. "I don't think I've tasted your cooking in years. Remember our supper club way back when—you and Toby and me and Roger? God, that was a lot of fun." Max poked an asparagus spear at Perry. "Way before your time, youngster."

"Yeah, yeah, I know. I missed out on most of the fun in life."

"Well, alas, in a way you did. I wouldn't have skipped the seventies for the world. Remember jug wines? God, those could give you a hangover. But that was okay. We were usually too stoned to notice. How did we ever manage to live like that?"

"I think we were much younger," Cameron told him. "And much, much stupider."

"Oh, not stupider," Max said. "I've been getting stupid ever since. I was at the very pinnacle of my intelligence around 1978. And you—you made a mean spaghetti with meatballs back in 1978, never since equaled."

"Spaghetti with meatballs. I'd never make such a thing anymore. Dan spoiled me, I guess. He took very good care of me, you know. Through everything. He richly deserves his freedom."

"You must be furious with him," Perry said.

"Not in the least. I know you won't believe me, but it's true. We had our run together, it was a good run, really, in spite of everything. If ever there was a perfect time for a parting, it's now. My T cells are way up, my viral load's practically undetectable. I couldn't have a better prognosis if I asked for one. Did I tell you I'm going back to work? I talked to Jorge, who seems delighted to have me back."

"Of course he's delighted," Max said. "He owes you everything."

"Still, I'd understand if he felt a little cramped having me around."

"Please," Perry interjected. "Have you seen what he's been doing to Chuck and Peter's garden? It looks truly hideous."

"That's coleus," Cameron told him, feeling he should defend his protégé. "It's all the rage this year."

"It's still hideous."

"I'm glad you're going back to work," Max said. "It's important to be out in the world. You've been in a stalemate way too long. You and Dan both."

"I was pretty sick there."

"Don't remind me. But now—what an extraordinary position you're in. Don't you see? This is life saying to you, 'Cameron, you thought it was over, but it's not over.' Endless Surprise. That's what life is."

"Is he always this inspirational?" Cameron asked Perry.

"There's a reason we call him Mr. Motivation Man."

"Just don't be too disappointed in the new me, okay?" Cameron told his friend. "I'm still the same middle-aged queer with AIDS and a lot of qualms about just about everything. I'm not complaining, mind you. I'm thrilled to still be on the planet. But I'm also realistic about just where things stand in my life. All I want right now is to take care of my health and, maybe, if I feel up to it, do another garden project or two before I fade gracefully into the sunset. The rest I'll take as it comes."

"That's fine. I love your gardens. I wish I could afford one. I just don't want you to set your sights too low. I want you to be proactive. It's scary, I know. But the great love of your life might very well be waiting out there for you right now. Even as we speak. You never know."

Cameron had to laugh. "I love you, Max. You never give up."

"No, I never do." Max spoke with fervor. "Remember what you said to me about Toby Vail? Back when you two first got together? You said, 'This is crazy. This is never going to happen.' And did it happen?"

"Yes. And was it crazy?"

"Well, yes, I think it probably was. But it was the high point of your life."

"It gave me AIDS."

"You don't know that for sure."

"No, I don't," Cameron admitted. "Anyway, I got over any regrets a long time ago. And, yes, you're right. Toby was the high point of my life. In spite of everything. Or, no—I should say, because of everything."

"See? And who's to say life doesn't have an even higher peak in store for you? You can't know—none of us can know, and that's my point."

Cameron was on the verge of saying something, he could never afterward remember what it was, when all at once, from the road, came the shriek of tires clutching asphalt.

"Oh my God," Perry said.

Cameron felt a spike of adrenaline—where were Casper and Diva? He always imagined the worst when it came to that treacherous stretch of road in front of his house. Leaping from the table, he tried to peer out the window, but the drapery of wisteria along the porch made it difficult to see much of anything. The whole house would come down, Dan used to warn, unless they got rid of that vine.

Max was already out on the porch. "There's a truck stopped," he said as Perry and Cameron joined him.

A gray pickup had skidded halfway onto the gravel of the road's shoulder—one of those pumped-up muscle trucks Cameron despised. Music, heavy on the bass, boomed from the cab. No casualties lay in sight, no cat or possum or deer.

"You weren't expecting anybody else for dinner, were you?" Perry wondered.

From the passenger side of the truck a young woman emerged; once free, she leaned into the open door and shouted, as if lobbing a grenade into an enemy bunker, "Fuck you!"

"Well, ouch," Max murmured as the three of them leaned out over the railing (the floor slanted; the porch was gradually pulling away from the house). "I always did think you lived on an awfully exciting road."

The young woman waited there by the car, hands on hips. Acid-washed jeans fit her like a second skin; she sported a bountiful head of strawberry-blond hair; her peach blouse had been tied off to reveal a diet-flat midriff.

The driver's door swung open and a young man climbed down. Looking across the truck's bed (the whole thing jacked up so high he could barely see over it), he ordered flatly, "Get back in the truck, Leanne."

"I don't love you anymore," Leanne informed him.

"Get back in the fucking truck."

"Go fuck yourself for me, okay?"

They hadn't the slightest idea they were being observed. They were twenty, twenty-two—desperate and clueless, Cameron thought, then reproached himself. Who was he, of all people, to think that?

"Do you want me to put you in the fucking truck myself?" the young man asked Leanne ominously. "Because I will do that."

He was not unbeautiful. His thin face tended toward gaunt, his small nose turned up appealingly, his close-cropped hair could almost pass for a military cut. He wore camouflage fatigues and a white, sleeveless T-shirt that revealed his perfectly sculpted upper arms.

With a sudden yelp Leanne turned and fled into the woods—Cameron's woods, twenty acres he and Dan had purchased some years back as a hedge against a convenience store or trailer park going in across the road. Leanne's flight caught the young man off guard; he shook his head in astonishment or disgust. He spit on the pavement. Leaving the car's engine running, the steroidal music pumping thunderously, he sprinted into the undergrowth after her.

"If he comes back dragging her by her magnificent hair, I'm going to pass out with joy," Max announced. "I adore redneck drama."

The truck sat empty and abandoned, its hazard lights flashing, the hectic message of its music unheard by any who might be able to decipher it.

A thrashing about in the underbrush heralded the couple's return. The handsome redneck grasped Leanne by the elbow and steered her roughly toward the truck. Noticing, for the first time, the three witnesses on the farmhouse porch, she yelled, a little halfheartedly, "Help. He's abducting me."

"What the fuck're you looking at?" her companion called sharply their way.

"Let's go inside," suggested Cameron, who tried to avoid incidents with the locals at all cost. He and Dan had had a couple of nasty confrontations with kids trespassing in the woods on their ATVs that he'd feared might lead to his house getting torched.

Despite his taunt, the young man didn't seem to mind an audience. He held Leanne against the truck and kissed her fiercely. "Everything's under control," he announced cockily. "Everything's just fine down here."

Leanne kicked him hard in the shin.

"Ow," he yelled. "Asshole."

"You're the asshole, asshole," she corrected him.

"That's it. In the truck." He wrenched open the door and hoisted her inside. "Stay," he ordered, then slammed the door shut.

Surprisingly, she didn't try to bolt, sitting subdued as he sauntered around to the driver's side. Had his kiss stunned her into submission? Or was this exactly what she'd wanted all along?

The pickup's engine roared full throttle, and in an impressive spray of gravel the truck shot off. He should have written down the license number, Cameron thought—just in case. But in case of what? Whose business was it, after all, what happened between consenting adults? He imagined their whole lives to be nothing but a series of such episodes—blind, passionate, satisfying. Didn't most of human existence operate at the level of dreary farce?

Though how reluctant, when faced with the alternative, one was to give any of it up.

"Heterosexuals," Max sighed. "Ain't they a riot?"

"Anybody who needs a truck that size," said Perry, "has got a tiny penis. Trust me on that one. I grew up with boys like that."

"Come," Cameron urged his friends. "Let's finish our supper."

The last of the spring peepers' sweet cacophony filled the warm air. Against the shadowy mass of trees, fireflies pulsed. His friends had gone, finally, and Cameron felt unexpectedly relieved as he sat out on his back steps and contemplated the darkness that claimed his garden.

He should have known they'd have to talk about his future without Dan. He missed Dan enormously—after eight years together, how could you not at least miss the habit of daily companionship? But at the same time, he'd felt these last weeks an exhilaration accountable only in part by the return of his health. He was grateful that Dan had been willing to speak the sorry truth about that stalemate Max, all too accurately, saw they'd wandered into. When he'd met Dan, eight years his junior, he'd been thirty-eight, recovering from a long season of grief and resigned to all sorts of things—not least among them the prospect of spending the rest of his life living in Manhattan and successfully, if rather joylessly, designing school playgrounds. Their attraction had been mutual and powerful, but the half-life of all that radiant energy had proved surprisingly brief. Still, their life together had taken him places he'd never expected. It was Dan who'd encouraged his dream of forging romantic gardens in the country rather than utilitarian pockets in the city. It was Dan who'd suggested leaving behind neighborhoods too haunted with ghosts of the recent dead. It was Dan who'd rented the car that had brought them, one winter afternoon, to the hinterlands west of the Hudson, where they'd gotten pleasantly lost among forsaken hamlets and bankrupt family farms.

How well he remembered that drive: a small river, now placid, now rushing, accompanied them as they entered a narrow valley; between the dark, scouring stream and the steep hills there remained barely room for the road and a sleepy scattering of wooden houses that coalesced into the main street of a village. They drove past a stone church, a languishing luncheonette, the red-brick Excelsior Hotel. He'd had the clearest, strangest sense that this place had been waiting for him his whole life. Most of that life, up till then, had been indecipherable to him. Only now and again had he been seized by a moment of such great clarity: on waking from a dream one morning when he was sixteen to discover, to his utter, everlasting surprise, that he'd fallen helplessly in love with Mitchell Johnson, the handsome boy who played trumpet in the high school band; or a summer afternoon long after Mitchell had faded into unrequited memory, when he found himself alone in the ancient ruined theater at Termessos in southern Turkey, Toby Vail having wandered off to look for the famous rock tombs, leaving him alone with nothing but the sun, the mountains, the ravishing sky, suddenly ambushed by what he told himself must be no less than Being itself.

Poor Dan too must have felt, as they crept along the main street of Stone Hollow, his own sense of certainty. "One day," he'd told Cameron, "you and I are going to live here."

"Do we really want to live in a place like this?" Cameron had asked cautiously. "I bet they eat gay men for breakfast here."

"Oh, I'm sure they do. But it's nice to dream. Anyway, we'll never be able to find it again. It's probably not even on any map."

But they had found it again, and not only on a map; against Cameron's better judgment they'd ended up sinking all their money—his money, really—into a 160-year-old farmhouse they'd found lingering precariously on the brink of no return. Friends had been skeptical, even alarmed. "You two are going to disappear," Max had warned. "We'll never hear from you again." But that hadn't happened. Instead, their friends had ventured up from Manhattan in droves to assist in, or in some cases merely to appreciate, the house's steady progress (as a restorer, Dan had turned out to have a touch of genius about him). Perhaps they had all thought of the house, in those early years, as a life raft that might carry anyone to safety. Only some of them, it turned out, would not be so lucky. Already Toby—charmed, beautiful, doomed Toby—had been swept away. Then, one after another, Ken and Jamie and Roger had plunged into the raging torrent. Cameron had realized, one day in the early nineties, that nearly every man he'd loved in the seventies and eighties was now dead.

A stirring in the lilacs interrupted his musings; a white form burst forth and scampered toward him. With a single fluid motion Casper leapt into his lap. Cameron stroked the creature's luxuriously arching spine; he listened with gratification to the motor of its purr. Did Casper remember anything of his life with Jamie and Roger, before illness had forced them to give him up? Without warning, a great wide ache of longing came over him—but for what? He was forty-six. He'd been shipwrecked, left for dead, only, unlike the rest of them, he'd been given a second chance, at least for the moment, and now found himself alone and well-nigh defenseless against the island's magic, waiting for whatever strange new adventure proposed to befall him.

Past Casper's steady purr, another sound caught his attention. He listened. Quiet, persistent, coming from the dark beyond the porch light's glow, it was as if someone stood in the bushes and methodically tore a sheet of paper into strips. He had never much minded the solitude of the country, its pitch-dark on cloudy nights, its diamond show of stars on clear; lately, though, he'd been aware of just how isolated he was. On one side of him lay the Rural Cemetery, with its several acres of graves both old and recent. On the other, back toward town and buffered by former fields grown up thick with saplings, a housing development from the mid-sixties kept out of sight and mostly, except when kids decided to run their ATVs through his woods, out of mind.

Listening to that methodical, perplexing sound—first one strip, then another, carefully shredded—he was aware of the great looming night beyond the house, how it swarmed among the flowers of his garden, flowed in like a steady breeze through the window screens, how it would hover over his bed through the long hours till the noisy flock of crows scavenging the compost heap signaled dawn. The thought crossed his mind that the handsome redneck in the gray pickup had somehow decided to come back, looking for trouble, but that was of course absurd. He and his friends had barely registered, if at all.

As if somehow aware of his attention, the noise persisted. He listened intently, in something of a quiet panic because he could not make out what it was in the dark. Then he glimpsed movement; a camouflaged shape came into focus.

A deer was browsing among his hosta. He almost laughed in relief. A young buck with tentative antlers looked at him, eyes bright disks of light, then lowered its head to take in another mouthful of expensive, ornamental leaves.

For a moment he had the strangest impression that if he spoke to the deer, the deer would speak back. "Hey," he said, but the buck seemed oblivious to his presence. Of course it must know he was there, but it must not care. The Camerons of the world were no threat. So it chewed leisurely. June so far had been dry; perhaps that was why the creature had ventured so uncommonly close to the house. From Cameron's lap, Casper watched with interest as the sleek, beautiful animal continued its methodical grazing, till after several minutes, and of its own accord, it turned and wandered off into the dark where peepers and fireflies broadcast again and again their shimmering seasonal question: Will you have me? Will you have me?

"That's all she wrote," Cameron told Casper with a yawn. "Time for bed." The evening had exhausted him. Still, it was a good exhaustion he felt, not like that persistent, debilitating fatigue of old. What a strange thing, to know with reasonable certainty that he would give other dinner parties. That he would seek out old friends and make new ones. That perhaps—and this was an idea—if he could manage to renovate the neglected flowerbeds and encourage the rosebushes, he'd even throw a garden party on the grand scale he and Dan used to manage back in the days before he got so sick. A start would be to repair the old shed at the back of the garden; last winter's snows had nudged it from quaint dilapidation to outright eyesore.

Indoors, dirty plates cluttered the kitchen counter, but he would save those for tomorrow. From the cabinet he took down his bottle of Stoli, then decided to forgo that indulgence. He poured himself a tall glass of springwater from the plastic jug in the fridge and headed upstairs to face his nightly ritual of pills.

WAR AGAINST THE ANIMALS. Copyright 2003 by Paul Russell.

Meet the Author

Paul Russell is the author of five award-winning novels, including The Coming Storm and Sea of Tranquillity. He is a professor at Vassar College and lives in upstate New York.

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War Against the Animals 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Paul Russell, as we are coming to realize, is an author who is well beyond genre novels. True, he demonstrates a sincere and deep understanding of the gender epiphany that accompanies the approach to puberty - the spectrum of fear, self-loathing, fantasy, desire, confusion and transcendence that weave in and out of every person who comes to grips with sexual preference. In short, he writes with great dignity and grace about 'coming out' whether that be in the parcels of memory of older men or in the active and onstage reality of young lads. As in his highly successful novel THE COMING STORM, Russell explores community/family/bonding in a story of people who fear home either as a loss or as an escape. 'Home' as goal is intrinsically part of this story and it is because of that aspect that, while the story is one of gay men in a Redneck dislocation, that makes it universal. And it all is distilled into the events a one summer. Cameron Barnes 'escapes' the choke of Manhattan in moving to Stone Hollow in upstate New York, leaving behind the memories of a love lost to AIDS, and starting life over with a new love that gradually dissolves into transcience. Yet in the meantime (recovering from brushes with death from his own AIDS) he has establishes himself as a fine landscape architect, encourages friends from New York to move to his Arcadia, and begins an encounter with a pair of homespun brothers whom he hires for a summer's work only to discover that the Redneck attitude of the town extends to their mentality. Cameron's past introduction to love is revealed through gently drawn flashbacks and thoughts and it is the slow discovery of similarities that results in his aligning with one of the brothers in a journey towards the younger's (Jesse's) self discovery. The words Russsell employs are never squandered: The title of the book, WAR WITH THE ANIMALS, refers not only to Cameron's struggle in the smalltown mentality of homophobia, but also with the demons of his virus, his past experiences and his present challenges. Russell sublety divides the book into sections: 'Et in Arcadia Ego' (and into paradise I go), 'The Chaos Garden' ( a descriptor of his work project and his landscape), 'Gethsemane' (or agony in the garden before Christ's betrayal), and 'Under the Shadow'. These subtitles suggest the delicacy of Russell's prose and style. Technically, Russell draws characters that are not only three dimensional, but who, like all humans, have polarities of good and evil that round out their personalites. No one is thoroughly hateful despite some of their atrocious behaviors, and no one is without character flaws no matter how sincere they attempt to pretend. WAR AGAINST THE ANIMALS (note: this is not entitled war 'with' the animals) is a highly successful book, one that has much to say about how we choose to lead our lives and the choices we make being mindful of the consequences. Cameron's summer results in a leaping change in the lives of nearly everyone we have met in this story. It is a brave book, a well-conceived story, and an entertaining read. Paul Russell has kept his promise as to his talent potential. I wait for the next novel!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I discovered Paul Russell quite by accident and am certainly glad that I did. This is one of the best, most well written books I've read in a long time. I recommend it to everyone--heterosexual, homosexual, or undecided. As a heterosexual woman, I absolutely loved this book from beginning to end and hated to see it end. I am also happy to know that Russell has other works out there that I can now discover.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Like The Coming Storm, I absolutely loved this book. Russell has a way of making his characters believeable. This is a great read...A different kind of coming-out story where you can relate to both the young man who is unsure of himself, as well as the protaganist, who has been around the block a few times.