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War Against the Animals: A Novel

War Against the Animals: A Novel

5.0 3
by Paul Russell

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Cameron Barnes, formerly of New York City, lives in a small town in upstate New York. After having nearly succumbed to AIDS, he's recently regained a measure of his health but his long-term lover has moved away and faces the daunting prospect of learning how to live with the idea of a future in mind again. As a tentative step, he hires two local young men,


Cameron Barnes, formerly of New York City, lives in a small town in upstate New York. After having nearly succumbed to AIDS, he's recently regained a measure of his health but his long-term lover has moved away and faces the daunting prospect of learning how to live with the idea of a future in mind again. As a tentative step, he hires two local young men, brothers Jesse and Kyle Vanderhof, to do some renovation work on his property.

With the depressed economy of the area, the changing population of the town in which they live and the recent death of their family, the Vanderhofs are facing hard times and tough decisions. The older of the brothers, Kyle, sees an opportunity in Cameron, pushing Jesse to befriend Cameron and take advantage of his 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 community and family, and his own mix of volatile, contradictory emotions towards Kyle, Cameron, and himself. Mirroring the community's own increasingly tense split between long-term residents and new arrivals, this trio moves inexorably towards crisis and potential tragedy that will transform each of their lives.

Widely praised for his deft prose and brilliant characterizations, over the past decade 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 novel yet.

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.

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St. Martin's Press
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Meet the Author

Paul Russell is the author of five novels - including The Coming Storm and Sea of Tranquillity - as well as The Gay 100, a work of non-fiction. His most recent novel was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award as well as the winner of the Ferro-Grumley Award. He is a professor at Vassar College and lives in upstate New York.

Paul Russell is the author of such novels as The Coming Storm and Sea of Tranquility - as well as The Gay 100, a work of non-fiction. His most recent novel was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award as well as the winner of the Ferro-Grumley Award. 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.