The Last Animal by Abby Geni is that rare literary find a remarkable series of stories unified around one theme: people who use the interface between the human and the natural world to contend with their modern challenges in love, loss, and family life. These are vibrant, weighty stories that herald the arrival of a young writer of surprising feeling and depth.
“Terror Birds” tracks the dissolution of a marriage set against an ostrich farm in the sweltering Arizona desert; “Dharma at the Gate” features the tempest of young love as a teenaged girl must choose between man’s best friend, her damaged boyfriend, and a beckoning future; “Captivity” follows an octopus handler at an aquarium still haunted by the disappearance of her brother years ago; “The Girls of Apache Bryn Mawr” details a Greek chorus of Jewish girls at a summer camp whose favorite counselor goes missing under suspicious circumstances; “In the Spirit Room” centers on a scientist suffering the heartbreaking loss of a parent from Alzheimer’s while living in the natural history museum where they both worked; in “Fire Blight” a father grieving over his wife’s recent miscarriage finds an outlet for comfort in their backyard garden and makes a surprising discovery on how to cherish living things; and in the title story, a retired woman traces the steps of the husband who left her thirty years ago, burning the letters he had sent along the way, while the luminous and exotic wildlife of the Pacific Ocean opens up to receive her.
Unflinching, exciting, ambitious and yet heartfelt, The Last Animal will guide readers through a menagerie of settings and landscapes as it underscores the connection among all living things.
|Product dimensions:||6.44(w) x 9.12(h) x 0.98(d)|
About the Author
Abby Geni is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the recipient of an Iowa Fellowship. “Captivity” won first place in the Glimmer Train Fiction Open and was listed in 2010 Best American Short Stories ; it was also selected for inclusion in New Stories from the Midwest , published by Ohio University Press. Her stories have also received Honorable Mentions in the Kate Baverman Short Story Prize and in Glimmer Train ’s Very Short Fiction Competition. She lives in Chicago, where she is at work on a novel.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Before I was halfway through my review copy this book, I knew I'd found an author to add to my top tier of favorites. This collection is absolutely wonderful. If it weren't for the publisher's description, I'm not sure I would have noticed that animals and nature were a common theme in these stories. But that piece of marketing was what piqued my interest in the book, so I'm not going to criticize it. A more obvious common theme might be loss; loved ones are missing or deceased, marriages are defunct, a baby is lost through miscarriage, families are estranged. But pointing to that as a common theme sounds dreary, and these stories are anything but dreary. There is life and hope in all of them; their characters are undefeated by their pain and loss. But that isn't to say that these stories are saccharine or self-consciously "uplifting," either. Geni's writing is intelligent, hard-edged, artistic, boldly creative, and a delight to read. In terms of comparing Geni to other authors, nothing comes to my mind beyond some of the "usual suspects" of great short fiction: Chekhov, Hemingway, Katherine Mansfield, Raymond Carver, Lorrie Moore, and so on. Geni certainly has her own voice as a writer, but I wouldn't say there's anything pyrotechnically unique about her style. Rather, the strength of her work is in its execution; in all the fine points of plotting, character, setting, description, elegant prose. She has a flair for descriptive phrases that had me smiling at the page again and again, and she also has a wonderful skill at balancing the seemingly contradictory forces of inventiveness and realism. I don't think capsuled plot descriptions would do justice to the stories in this book (and those have been done elsewhere anyway), so I won't take you on a march through the table of contents. A couple of stories do beg for some comment, however: In "Captivity," as with several other stories, Geni explores the connections that bond people and animals. The protagonist is dealing with the unexplained disappearance of her brother, and she finds neither comfort nor even a basic level of communication with the people who share the tragedy with her. Instead, her solace comes from her relationship with what would seem the least likely of animal companions: an octopus she cares for at a public aquarium. In a completely charming scene, she takes the octopus from its tank and carries it around, giving it a tour of the outside world: "Out in the hallway his attention was thoroughly absorbed by a fire alarm box, its plastic surface, the handle he couldn’t reach through the glass. I allowed him to trail one tentacle over the dusty carpet. He would not let go of me, and the red didn’t entirely leave his skin, but his eyes didn’t stop roving for a moment and his tentacles were hungry for every new surface." "Landscaping" is a story of only six pages, and yet is a work of stabbing intensity. Flying through decades of a woman's life, it touches down for brief moments, showing us those moments in precise, exquisitely drawn detail, and then flying on. The story told is a tragic one, but the first person narrator tells it without the tiniest grain of self-pity, and the effect is simply devastating. For sensitive, imaginative, beautifully-written short stories, you can't do better than this collection.
I was completely absorbed by these stories. Each one transports the reader to a different place, mood, and feeling. Its treatment of the natural world - animals, plants, all living things - made me look at our world differently. Just stunning, stunning work.