Winner of the Texas Institute of Letters Award and the Writer's League of Texas Fiction Award
A February 2015 Indie Next Selection
A January Apple iBook Selection
An Austin American-Statesman Selects Book
A powerful debut novel about a group of 30-somethings struggling for connection and belonging, Migratory Animals centers on a protagonist who finds herself torn between love and duty.
When Flannery, a young scientist, is forced to return to Austin from five years of research in Nigeria, she becomes split between her two homes. Having left behind her loving fiancé without knowing when she can return, Flan learns that her sister, Molly, has begun to show signs of the genetic disease that slowly killed their mother.
As their close-knit circle of friends struggles with Molly’s diagnosis, Flannery must grapple with what her future will hold: an ambitious life of love and the pursuit of scientific discovery in West Africa, or the pull of a life surrounded by old friends, the comfort of an old flame, family obligations, and the home she’s always known. But she is not the only one wrestling with uncertainty. Since their college days, each of her friends has faced unexpected challenges that make them reevaluate the lives they’d always planned for themselves.
A mesmerizing debut from an exciting young writer, Migratory Animals is a moving, thought-provoking novel, told from shifting viewpoints, about the meaning of home and what we owe each other—and ourselves.
About the Author
Mary Helen Specht's work has appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times and Colorado Review. A winner of the Richard Yates Short Story Award, among other prizes, she is a former Fulbright Scholar to Nigeria and Dobie-Paisano Writing Fellow. She earned an MFA in fiction from Emerson College and now teaches creative writing at St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I don't usually read contemporary fiction, preferring the escapism of fantasy and science fiction. I was drawn into this book by hearing the author read an abridged version of the prologue at the book launch in Austin TX. The prose was so rich and lyrical, I was captivated with the way that she painted the world with her words. Reading this book I realized how wonderful and affirming it can be to interact with a work of art which captures the mundane, the painful, and everything in between and weaves it together with beauty and love of life. Mary Helen Specht has found a way to weave the emotional inner life of her characters into the very texture of the world around them. There is a deep sense of place tugging against the weight of each individual self. Each gives shape and form to the other. This tension seems to pull from life an image of each single time and place, each person in each moment, floating like unique snowflakes suspended in the air not yet heavy enough to come falling to the ground. I am inspired to wax poetic, but in plainer words, I will say this; this book is on its surface extraordinarily beautiful in its sensual richness. Beneath that surface, it is a poem where threads of themes are woven into such a pattern that standing back and giving it space reveals more and more of its beautiful symmetry. It is a book to be enjoyed for its rich flavor and whose deeper more subtle beauty will also feed your soul. I highly recommend this book, and if you want to add a bit more sensory exploration to the adventure, check out Mary Helen Specht’s post on Powell’s Books where she gives you a fabulous playlist of music important to the characters of the book
Well Written, Insightful, and Compelling Favorite Quotes: “Kunle was untainted by the loss and heartbreak Flannery’s family dragged behind it like a lizard’s tail.” “His father was a Mexican who didn’t much like Mexicans, and it was only later than Santi became to wonder what that might do to a person’s psyche.” “Over time, Molly would discover there were all sorts of baggage and sharp edges to these people who eventually became her closest circle. But in that moment, looking at them from the outside, all she could see were lives that existed inside an upturned snow globe. Glittering in the light.” “How long had Santiago been hounded by the slippage between what he was and what he needed to be to make Flannery happy?” “The three women wore flowery sundresses and various incarnations of what she and Molly used to call ‘Savior sandals.’ Like Lou, the three women were unshaven, bursts of black hair beneath their armpits like grass growing from the crack of a rock. It made Flan fell suburban and overly groomed.” My Review: Migratory Animals is a smartly written book, densely populated with meaty sentences and thoughtful words. It made me remember and it made me think. It was exquisite. It is something to savor, and I admit – I savored it. More than a few times, I had to stop and reread passages, as I was totally in awe of how the thoughts and feelings had been so aptly and insightfully expressed. This is not merely a story, it is literary art. An eclectic and intelligent group of people with actually very little in common, meet, become friends, and bond while living in the same college housing. Throughout the subsequent years, they are in and out of each other’s lives - feeling, sharing, and bringing pain and support as they age and occasionally stop to contemplate their pasts and present lives. I saw myself repeatedly in this missive, and felt as if I had been sucker punched more than a few times. At times the story grew heavy, at other times, nostalgic. I experienced a full range of emotion as I read, from playful to melancholy - I smiled, I grimaced, and I stewed, but I loved every bit of it and wanted more.