Animal Wife

Animal Wife

by Lara Ehrlich
Animal Wife

Animal Wife

by Lara Ehrlich


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“In villages where women bore most of the weight of a constricted life, witches flew by night on broomsticks,” said Italo Calvino of the way imagination bridges the gap between everyday existence and an idealized alternative. The fifteen stories of Animal Wife are unified by girls and women who cross this threshold seeking liberation from family responsibilities, from societal expectations, from their own minds. A girl born with feathers undertakes a quest for the mother who abandoned her. An indecisive woman drinks Foresight, only to become stymied by the futures branching before her. A proofreader cultivates a cage-fighting alter ego. A woman becomes psychologically trapped in her car. A girl acts on her desire for a childhood friend as a monster draws closer to the shore. A widow invites a bear to hibernate in her den. Animal Wife was selected as the winner of the Red Hen Fiction Award by New York Times bestselling author Ann Hood, who says, “From the first sentence Animal Wife grabbed me and never let go. Sensual and intelligent, with gorgeous prose, it made me dizzy with its exploration and illumination of the inner and outer lives of girls and women.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781597098847
Publisher: Red Hen Press
Publication date: 09/08/2020
Pages: 168
Sales rank: 1,093,517
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Lara Ehrlich is the author of the short story collection Animal Wife, which was selected as the winner of the Red Hen Fiction Award by New York Times bestselling author Ann Hood, who says the book “made [her] dizzy with its exploration and illumination of the inner and outer lives of girls and women.” Lara’s writing appears in StoryQuarterly, Hunger Mountain, the Massachusetts Review, and the Columbia Review, among others, and has been nominated for a 2020 Pushcart Prize. Lara has attended the Bread Loaf and Tin House writers’ conferences, and she received a 2019 Parent-Writer Fellowship from the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. She is a graduate of the University of Chicago and Boston University, and she lives in Boston, Massachusetts, with her husband and daughter. Visit her website at

Read an Excerpt

Eve’s doctor recommends she draw a map of her breasts to become familiar with their topography. Eve imagines such a map, veined with blue-green rivers, the ridge of her breastbone—a mysterious world she never wants to visit.

Desiree the Destroyer’s breasts overflow her spandex jumpsuit, and she dusts them with glitter so they catch the cage lights. She knows how to make an impression. Her spiked kneepads leave puncture wounds in her competitors’ thighs. Her mother sews her costumes with liberal use of sequins. Desiree the Destroyer designs her own capes.

When Eve was growing up, her mother sewed her clothes from ten-cent pattern books. Their covers depicted girls in ruffled dresses. In middle school, the other kids teased Eve, but she couldn’t tell her mother she wanted clothes from the mall. Eve is thirty, and her mother still makes her dresses.

At thirty, Desiree the Destroyer still lives with her mother, who lures practice partners into the garage with milk and cookies. The pesticide-sprayer from next door, the throat-clearer from across the street, the drag racer from down the block. As the door slides shut behind them, they blink in confusion. Cookies crumble in their fists. Desiree the Destroyer strides down the stairs from the mudroom, her cape billowing, her décolletage glittering. They freeze in wonder before her.

There was the creep who parked his van across from the elementary school. Desiree the Destroyer crushed his groin. There was the paperboy who lobbed the Sunday edition through her mother’s sun porch window. Desiree the Destroyer planted her knee on his neck and made him weep for mercy. There was the Doberman that terrorized small children. Desiree the Destroyer tore out its throat.

Eve is a champion of the English language. She arranges her office supplies parallel to the edges of the desk and does not initiate conversation with the other proofreader, Nancy, who shares her cubicle. Nancy is the type of woman Eve could easily become, if she were less vigilant. Nancy signs her emails “Thx.” She wears low-cut shirts that reveal her collarbones. She uses both drink tickets at the company holiday party. Nancy has an online dating profile.

Still, Eve is eager to appear friendly. She knows everyone’s birthday and favorite donut. She approaches office relationships with the same precision she devotes to tracking her time. (Break for water: 1.47 minutes.) Her boss has suggested she is perhaps too diligent, though he appreciates her attention to detail. When she tries to ease up, her attention to detail drags her back into thoroughness. Eve fears she is a car with blown-out brakes sliding down a hill. No one is looking. She slips her fingers into her shirt.

From “The Tenant”

The bear rifles through my garbage. He steals my newspaper and dozes in my magnolia tree. He helps himself to the cat’s food, dipping his paws into the dish, his ears twitching. Last night, he stood off with a raccoon. When it dug its fingers into the food, the bear popped its head off. It was only that once, though. He was staking his claim.

I keep still on my inflatable raft as he performs laps in the aboveground pool. He sprawls in my lounge chair with his belly to the sun. We sunbathe in companionable silence.

When the pool is covered, he comes to my door. I keep the screen locked now that Frank is gone. The bear looks at me with heavy-lidded eyes shadowed with soft, damp fur. I unlock the screen and let him in.

He follows my tour with polite interest and particularly likes the den, where Frank used to watch football and read the paper. He climbs into Frank’s easy chair, and when I show him how it reclines, he snuffles with pleasure.

It’s good to hear the game downstairs again while I make supper. I prepare salmon fillets with lemon and dill and serve them on TV trays so we can eat together in the den. He sniffs the fish, his claws clinking against the plate, and polishes it off in two bites.

As I clear his tray, he roars. I drop to the carpet and play dead. When nothing happens, I look up to find him watching me with a quizzical expression. His team lost, is all.

I sleep well now. If a thief or a rapist broke in, the bear would pop his head off. We try all kinds of fish. He likes the bottom-feeders best. They taste a bit like dirt, but I defer to his preference. Frank didn’t like fish. He had a meat and potato palate. The bear will eat anything I make with relish. I learn to bake, poach, fry, batter, sear, and soufflé. The bear’s coat is getting thick and glossy. We eat by candlelight.

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